Film Director Lee Daniels has offered Black cinema & American film a gem in his movie Precious, a film adaptation of writer Sapphire’s book, PUSH. To say that the soundtrack is soulful and gritty is an understatement; but nevertheless it is a statement. The film is about 16-year-old Claireece “Precious” Jones, an obese, illiterate inner-city black young woman with a down-syndrome child who endures an incestuous relationship with her abusive mother’s partner. Soul and gospel early Hip Hop & House music help to color this narrative that is sure to see Oscar gold. However, this amazing feat in black film and 21st century cinema may also be seen as a setback for some. Ultimately, this story highlights the struggles of a minority person who is yet a minority within a minority. The film’s protagonist is an illiterate black woman with a disable child. The film tells the story of a young woman in the late 1980s & early 1990s. We are witnessing her story now in the 21st century.
The Precious soundtrack features Nona Hendryx, LaBelle, Queen Latifah. The music reaches as far back as 1934 with Sunny Gale’s “Did You Ever See A Dream Walking?” Mahalia Jackson’s “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” is from the 1940s. Mary J. Blige – who sings the only recently recorded song on the album, “I Can See In Color” hosts a record with needle static in the background to give it a more authentic & gritty feel, a feel of struggle. And yes, the film is about one individual’s struggle, but what does it say about our current music atmosphere that the film soundtrack could not boast more recent singers from the 1990s or later?
Precious deals with issues such as illiteracy, weight issues, self-esteem, sexism, colorism, & incest just to name a few. However, the disconnect between the music and the setting of the film and then the setting of today’s viewers makes for a dangerous situation.
To musically narrate a film of the ’90s with music from the ’40s, ’70s & ’80s says that the music of the time in which the protagonist exists cannot tell Jones’ story. And if her present music isn’t telling her story, then whose story is the music narrating?
It is understandable that a notable Black film dealing with universal issue would include some gospel or soul-infused music. However, I’m sure many artists of the New Jack Swing era or early Hip Hop would be able to narrate Precious with music that the lead character would have known & heard on her radio or on her cassette tapes.
Another issue is more complex. Director Lee Daniels is a black man, a father, & a gay man. The ’90s saw a rise in a return to Black Pride infused with Hip Hop culture and Cross Colors, as well as a push in the Gay Rights Movement. When you have a soundtrack of a movie set during this great age of Bill Clinton, the beginning of the Internet, & gay pride, Mahalia Jackson is not speaking to the signs of the times (circa 1987). This soundtrack eliminates people that are not part of the musical experience, unfortunately excluding the protagonist. Ironically, solely based on the description of the director-a black gay man – and those like him, Daniels, a multiple minority himself is not included in the Precious experience, & his identity & experience obviously need not be part of the production in order to produce a remarkable work of art. This is not to say that he has not suffered with any of the issues that the film explores; but if the soundtrack is also to re-iterate the movie, where are your other black minorities?
The soundtrack is a mix of soul singers from yesteryear that seem to be providing more of an ancestral framework rather than a current examination of Precious’ story.
The tracklisting hosts a line-up of songs that are to uplift and mediate the pain of the protagonist’s life, much like The Color Purple. Black music is used to tell a black story that is ultimately universal. So, is the soundtrack with its old tracks a warning to us that history will repeat itself if we don’t hearken to what has been told by our forefathers & foremothers? Or is it telling a 21st century viewership that our social situation has begot lackluster music that cannot aid in a fight or narrate our struggles because like the disconnect between Jones’ story & the music used to tell it we have disconnected from our struggles and are thus producing lifeless, apathetic art?
The music included on the Precious movie soundtrack is as great today as it was when it originally surfaced. So the soundtrack by merit of music alone is superb, wrought with a story of empowerment & push. However, the soundtrack as a medium to tell this story falls short because of its disconnect.