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Is there a backlash against 'Precious'? Is Oprah to blame?

October 21, 2009 | 12:46 pm

Precious oprah oscars tyler perry

When I called the Gotham Awards' snub of "Precious" "shocking," Lou Lumenick of the New York Post said that "tends to confirm my suspicion that awards-wise, the film could suffer a backlash because of its high-profile endorsement by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry."

Hmmm. I agree with Lou that a backlash is brewing against "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," but among some film critics, not among Oscar voters or other industry folks and not as a result of Oprah's or Tyler's embrace. (An interesting theory Lou's got, though — more on that later.) As Lou notes, "Precious" topped IndieWire's critics' poll, but now I think critics are starting to resent the fact that their darling flick's gone mainstream, as evidenced by it winning the audience awards at the Sundance and Toronto International film festivals. Now "Precious" is obviously Oscar-bound. Critics are stubborn, contrary-minded folk, of course, and I think we're seeing classic evidence of that in the nominations just announced by the Gotham Awards.

If any film should've been lavished with bids from the New York-based awards honoring outstanding indies, it's "Precious," the Harlem-based drama that towers above all other indies this year in terms of awards buzz. Clearly, it should've been nominated in three Gotham Awards races (where it was eligible — yes, we checked): best picture, breakthrough director (Lee Daniels) and breakthrough performer (Gabby Sidibe and/or Mo'Nique). However, these are the judges who decided to snub "Precious" when they chose the nominees in those categories. Best picture: Rajendra Roy, chief film curator, Museum of Modern Art; Lisa Schwarzbaum, film critic, Entertainment Weekly; Dana Stevens, film critic,; and Kenneth Turan, film critic, Los Angeles Times. Best breakthrough director and actor: Florence Almozini, program director, BAMCinématek; Justin Chang, film critic, Variety; Rob Nelson, film critic, Minnesota Post.

It's curious that the Gotham Awards continue to submit to the tyranny of film journalists to decide their nominations — something the rival Indie Spirits, based out on America's opposite coast, would never do — considering all the trouble they caused in the past. Film journalists are so wacky that they brazenly, arrogantly flouted the whole purpose of the Gotham Awards in 2006 and nominated "The Departed" for best picture even though the huge Warner Bros. production, budgeted at $90 million, was as far away from being an indie as Manhattan is from Akhiok, Alaska (population, 80). One year later, they pulled another shockeroo. The critics responded to all of the gushing over "Juno" at the Toronto Film Festival by snubbing it for best picture at the Gothams. (It made it into the category for breakthrough performance, but that's that.) In both cases, the Indie Spirits righted such obvious wrongs by snubbing "The Departed" and giving their best picture award to "Juno," which was also nominated for the top prize at the Oscars.


It's safe to say that the Spirit Awards will rectify this ridiculous snub of "Precious" by heaping kudos upon it. Pay attention to the soap opera as it plays out. The Indie Spirits and Gotham Awards used to be part of the same organization, then split, partly due to the Manhattanites having the gall to create their own Gotham Awards after the Spirits had been humming along so merrily for so long out in L.A. How much these rival awards loathe each other can be seen hilariously in how they announce nominees and winners. This year, just like last, the Spirits will try to upstage the Gothams by unveiling their nominations just hours before the Gothams announce their winners on Dec. 1.

So, yes, I think there's a backlash against "Precious," but it's a peculiar, isolated case, not epidemic, so therefore not significant. Just like "Juno," "Precious" will rebound just fine with major laurels at the Indie Spirits, Oscars, Golden Globes and, yes, even a few brave critics' kudos. Certainly, the Critics' Choice Awards, which are bestowed by the broadcast journos, not the snobby others.

Now back to Lou Lumenick's point about Oprah. (Click here to read his full article.) Could there be an Oscar backlash against flicks she pushes hard? That's a fascinating idea that Lou expresses thus: "Oprah's own Oscar nomination for 'The Color Purple' notwithstanding, she simply does not wield the same influence in the film world that she does with literature and theater. Witness her embrace of  Baz Luhrmann's 'Australia,' which she hailed as another 'Gone With the Wind,' something that even Nicole Kidman looked embarrassed to hear. O reportedly plans a full week of shows to push 'Precious.' Yikes. Which I'm not sure is going to help the movie's Oscar chances (or its performance in year-end critics' awards) any more than Perry's recent public confession that he was abused as a child. After all, he's best known to Oscar voters as the cross-dressing star/director of wildly popular lowbrow melodramatic farces."

Oprah was also a producer of "The Great Debaters," which was unjustly snubbed at the Oscars. Ditto "Beloved," which I truly loved, but it got crucified by critics first, then snubbed by Oscar.

Coindidence? Or do you think there's anything to this theory? Or to the idea of Tyler Perry's silliness being to blame? Vote in our polls below and check out the discussion of this hubbub in our forums here.

Read what other top Oscar bloggers have to say about the "Precious" backlash in this post that rounds up reax they sent to Gold Derby.

Photos: Lionsgate

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The comments to this entry are closed.


My "backlash" against Precious is because yet again Hollywood serves up all it's praise for an effort that depicts black people as subhuman.

The movie does not belong in the area of anykind of Oscars! I do not follow anything Oprah or her friends suggest! People need to use their own minds and not follow anyone who think they know more or better than everyone else!!!! Get a life people!!!!

...What Emma san said...


It angers me that there are blatant racial stereotypes in film -- STILL-- in 2009. How anachronistic. (Thanks Tyler Perry and Oprah for promoting and perpetuating old school racial referents !)

For me, the victim/fool/drug-dealer-in-the-hood trio of seemingly popular movie roles for African Americans has become too tedious to watch. So, I don't; which means I'll be one of the handful who won't be seeing Precious.

'Guess I'll just have to wait to see the apparently uber-talented Gabourey Sidibe in a non-stereotypical role, although I think my wait's going to be rather long: I read that her next project is with Tyler Perry...

Hello everyone.

My opinions will probably be pretty unpopular, but still felt compelled to post them here.

Is it me, or does the film Precious seem like a sequel to the Color Purple? I mean, some (if not all) the characters seem too similar to those in Color Purple. I even read the book, Push and not only did it start off even like CP but it references it as well. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Oprah is pushing it like crazy.

Speaking of which, I personally believe that Oprah is campaigning for it so much because Precious is another version of Color Purple; plus she seems to be pursuing the Oscar gold that eluded her when Color Purple came out 20 or so years ago. This might be her second chance @ oscar gold, as she may not get another chance to be a part of an oscar-winning project.

I long for the days when more black films are well made and taken seriously, yet are on an equal ground with majority movies and won’t need to keep playing the race card or making African Americans the hapless, helpless uneducated fools and victims that we’re so prevalently being portrayed as in films. That, to me, would be true equality in black cinema for me.

I think the point is being missed. Though I haven't seen the film myself it seems to be a very important film. And she's not necessarily pushing it for the awards. Or maybe she is, she is Oprah after all. I think the main thing is that people see this film. When I first heard of Precious, I thought 'whose going to want to see this? where's the audience?' So why are the indie people creating a backlash. Because it wasn't an exclusive film for them?

I went in expecting a great film, but felt it was merely a very good one. The directing and acting were first rate, yet it dragged in parts due to the fact that too many scenes did not move the story forward. Nevertheless, i was really pleased to see a world that I am unfamiliar with portrayed in such a three dimensional manner. It is well worth seeing.

Please, Who cares about a backlash, the pitiness and simple-minded people can not judge this movie on its own merit, the h--- with them. AFRICAN AMERICANS DO NOT HAVE TO DEFINE ITS TALENT BY A WHITE MAN'S TROPHY!

The only reason in my opinion that it may not win an Oscar is that certain people in high society do not want to see the ugly truths of what can happen. The reason that it was very successfull as an independent film is because the people that viewed it actually had open minds and were open to seeing not so abormal realities. Wake up America.

I see stories like this in everyday news. Don't care to see it on the screen.

Backlash! Schmacklash!

Saw this movie 2 weeks ago and have conflicting thoughts about it. The acting by all was superb...but it's on par as a Hallmark movie. The subject matter will turn a lot of people off. As I sat in the theatre, I was more shocked than sympathetic by what was happening on screen. And Monique, while giving a hellish performance, won't win because her character is just so too ghetto.
If anyone needs an award it's Paula Patton, who surprised me in her small impacting role. As for Oprah giving the movie a whole week of publicity on her show -- that's overkill. What's she going to do, bring out every incest and rape victim in the Midwest to tell their story?
don't do it Oprah. Let the movie find it's audience.

I think any movie with a predominately black cast about abuse, rape, and incest isn't going to have the easiest time in getting awards.

They'll be some who don't want to see it and don't. And there will be others who think it was designed for awards and spurn it. But overall this year is so lacking in the top races that it should do fine.

of course you think there is a backlash, Tom - you love them, and you LOVE to add fuel to the fire.

I don't think there is a backlash, yet, but this film is not going to be nominated and win everything. Just because it has been a festival darling, and Oprah is an executive producer does not mean that this film will be The one to beat this award season. I will see this movie eventually, but I will wait til the hype subsides.

Additionally, if anything, I reckon people will tire of being told or rather, strongly suggested, by Oprah what to watch and whom to vote for. She's not God!

It's not Oprah. It's the subject matter. As liberal as the showbiz industry claims to be, topics like incest or even plain underage sex give them the willies. I think there's a backlash against both Precious and An Education because the female protagonists are engaged in inappropriate sexual relations, though the situation in An Education isn't as heinous(though it does fall under statutory rape in this country).

I cant imagine how this film can be empowering to women, even though it may appear so on the surface.
It's victim porn, imo. Artistic, Indie victim porn.

I am however, rooting for Gabourey Sidibe. If there is a backlash, I doubt it will impact her.

And I say all of this, without having seen the film. I'll park my biases at the door before I do.

I think there will be a backlash. I felt that when Oprah and Perry began backing the film, it no longer seemed like an independent film. It was no longer a film one had to discover, but one that was shoved into our faces by the pushy Oprah. Even with Mariah, Mon-nique and Lenny K. in it, it lost some indie appeal There are some good articles on these people at the URL site I posted above.

Saw this movie at Sundance. Believe me, this movie is amazing and it WILL be nominated for some Oscar. It's the new Color Purple.

I dont think there is any backlash, honestly this just doesnt look like that good of movie. I wouldnt want to see it from what i have heard, not the least bit interested, mabee that is why it didnt win the award.



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