He's got a pair of IFP Spirit Award nominations under his belt -- and is guaranteed to be a player in the coming awards season.
But screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher knows that not everyone is enamored of Precious, the film whose screenplay he adapted from the novel Push by Sapphire. Even before it opened, he was steadying himself for criticisms of a film that was also winning some of the most glowing reviews of the year.
"It's always healthy to be taken down a notch, even though it's humbling," he said over dinner recently. "For any film, it's inevitable."
That's particularly true for a film about a young woman trying to rise from the squalor of her life in mid-1980s Harlem. Add in the fact that Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey have both lent their names to the project as presenters and the movie becomes a big, fat target.
Armond White, critic for New York Press, took particular umbrage with the film and its depiction of a pregnant, illiterate, obese black teen named Precious: "Winfrey, Perry and (director Lee) Daniels make an unholy triumvirate," he wrote. "They come together at some intersection of race exploitation and opportunism... Regardless of its narrative details about class and gender, Precious is an orgy of prurience."
Fletcher understands that response, as well as the one that says that, given so few opportunities to be represented in the mass media, African-Americans should avoid depicting the sordid side of their culture.
"I don't think there's enough breadth to the stories told about African-Americans," said Fletcher, a New London, Ct., native. "If there were a greater variety of films and subject matter about African-Americans, then it would not be looked upon in the same way. I always looked at the story as oddly universal. From a distance, Precious and her world look very specific. But after a while, you see so many universal themes. You look at her as just an American character like Huck Finn or Celie in The Color Purple.'"
Fletcher became involved in Precious after director Lee Daniels saw a short film that Fletcher had written and directed and offered him the opportunity to adapt Sapphire's novel. Though hardly a best-seller, the book had a feverish following in the black community -- which might have daunted another writer.
"I'm embarrassed and grateful that I'd never heard of the book," Fletcher admitted. "I'm so grateful because I would have been intimidated by its status. Instead, I was able to make the sort of leaps that I was. Ultimately the book had me under its spell. Once I was under that spell, any gigantic leaps seemed to fall in place as long as they were true to the spirit of the book and honored it."
The story of a teen who escapes an abusive mother and learns self-esteem, Precious includes scenes of Precious being raped (and impregnated) by her own father. But those moments are only suggested in the film.
"The sexual stuff was much more explicit in the book," Fletcher said. "Cinema is much more efficient in that way. You can show a glimpse and the audience can connect the dots. It was unlikely that I could put on the screen what the audience could imagine."
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