LEARNING GUIDE TO:
SUBJECTS — Health; ELA (for cross-curricular assignments); Psychology;Age: 15+; MPAA Rated R (for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language); 2009; 110 Minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
Note to Teachers: This film can be deeply disturbing. Be sure to watch it and the deleted scene of the incest survivor's meeting before showing either to students. Especially for this movie, it is important to get administrative and parental permissions.
Description: Claireece "Precious" Jones is 16, morbidly obese, illiterate, and pregnant with her second child. Her teachers ignore her and her classmates tease her. Home life is a nightmare. Precious is required by her mother, Mary, to cook, clean, and go to the store. Mary spends her days and nights sitting in a chair watching TV. When Mary does get out of the chair, it's usually to beat Precious for some minor infraction or for no reason at all. In the meantime, Mary spews streams of verbal abuse at her daughter, telling "Precious" that she's stupid and worthless.
But Precious is valuable to Mary because Precious and Mongo, the Down Syndrome daughter to which Precious gave birth at age 12, increase the size of Mary's welfare check — although Mongo lives with Mary's mother, visiting only when the welfare worker comes to check on the family.
That's really bad, but there's more to come. Precious' two pregnancies were the result of serial rapes by her father, tolerated but resented by Mary — not because Mary objects to incest — Mary resents the fact that Precious "stole" her man and that while he gave Mary only one child, he's given Precious two! Perhaps another cause of Mary's abuse of her daughter is repressed guilt that she did nothing to stop the abuse when it began — when Precious was three years old. But perhaps not; Mary isn't the type to feel guilt about anything.However, when Precious is sent to an alternative school and placed under the tutelage of a nurturing teacher named Blue Rain, Precious blossoms. She gets over the fact that Ms. Rain is a "homo", a group that Mary told her were dangerous, and starts learning to read. Precious gains self-respect, successfully delivers a healthy baby, escapes from Mary, and sets about the task of raising her children and getting an education.
The film is based on the novel Push by Sapphire.
Rationale for Using the Movie: This film provides insight into what it's like to be raised unloved, abused, and hopeless. It shows that with love and nurturing even children of the most dysfunctional families can move forward with their lives and attain a triumph of the human spirit. Showing this film and using the materials in the Learning Guide will increase understanding of the scourge of childhood sexual abuse. (CDC estimates are that about 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be victims of childhood sexual abuse.)
The story also provides graphic depictions of the psychological defense mechanism of dissociation.
Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Watching this film with the scaffolding suggested by the Learning Guide will increase resilience in children subject to dysfunctional families and to sexual and physical abuse. In children who do not have to contend with those problems, the movie will expand empathy for those who are not so fortunate. As Gabourey Sidibe, the college student who played the lead role said,
I know this girl. . . . I've seen her, I've lived beside this girl. . . . I didn't want to be friends with those girls because they had too much drama going on in their lives. I feel guilty for having ignored them." (Interview with Roger Ebert).The intense emotions raised by this film will drive writing assignments for the development of skills required by the ELA curriculum.
Possible Problems: Serious. One incident of the incest/rape of a child and another of a woman masturbating are shown; however, the scenes are not graphic. Repeated instances of physical abuse of a child by her mother are shown. The film is shot through with profanity. The primary problem is the movie's great strength: the issues raised by this film are very disturbing. However, they need to be addressed.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students' minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie.
Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.
Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.
While this film is a work of fiction, it's striking accuracy requires that in many ways it should be treated as if it were a documentary.
USING PRECIOUS IN THE CLASSROOM
Before Watching the Movie:
Tell students the following:
Teachers should consider giving the class TWM's Film Study Worksheet for Precious and review the questions with students before showing the movie. After the movie has been shown students can be required to provide responses as homework or as an in-class writing project. In the alternative, some questions on the worksheet can be used for class discussion.
After Watching the Movie:
Teachers should tell classes that since the story told by this movie was made, the social welfare system has changed and that social workers and police usually act quickly to protect children when there are substantiated incidents of child abuse. Mary's father would have been arrested and sent to jail for raping Precious. If Mary's physical and verbal abuse of Precious had been suspected, the home would have been investigated and Precious would have been placed in foster care. [This information can be transmitted to the class through direct instruction or through a class discussion using discussion question #1.]
Teachers should tell the class that despite efforts to stop childhood sexual abuse, it is still rampant. CDC estimates that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be victims of child sexual abuse. In a 30 student class with as many boys as girls that's seven or eight girls and five boys who will be victims of sexual abuse.
Teachers may want to have the class read the last paragraph of the narrative section of the novel. It supplements the ending of the film. The best time to read this passage may be at the end of the class discussion.
It's Sunday, no school, meetings. I'm in dayroom at Advancement House, sitting on a big leather stool holdin' Abdul. The sun is coming through the window splashing down on him, on the pages of his book. It's called The Black BC's. I love to hold him on my lap, open up the world to him. When the sun shine on him like this, he is an angel child. Brown sunshine. And my heart fill. Hurt. One Year? Five? Ten years? Maybe more if I take care of myself. Maybe a cure. Who knows, who is working on shit like that? Look his nose is so shiny, his eyes shiny. He pulling my earring, want me to stop daydreaming and read him a story before nap time. I do. pp. 139 & 140.
1. This story took place in the 1980s. Had Precious lived today, how would the child welfare system and the criminal justice system have reacted to her situation in ways that are not shown in the film? Suggested Response: See the section on "Before Watching the Movie".
2. In which scenes is Precious shown dissociating? Suggested Response: All of her fantasy scenes. One example is the scene in which she is being raped by her father and bursts through the ceiling into a world in which she is a celebrity.
3. This story has many important themes. Identify two major themes of the story.
Suggested Response: Students will formulate the themes in their own way. The substance is what is important. Students may also see additional themes in the film. The following suggestions are not in order of importance. They may overlap.
A. You are ultimately in control of your own life and you can build your own self-esteem.
B. It is never too late to take control of your life and be the person that you want to be.
C. People don't choose their family or their circumstances in life, it's what you make of the hand you were dealt that is the source of self-respect.
D. If nurturing love cannot be found at home, it can be found in other places.
E. A good and caring teacher can change a life.
F. A person who others ridicule for being overweight, ugly, damaged, or different is still a person worthy of understanding and respect. The college student who played Precious in the movie, Gabourey Sidibe, was referring to this theme when she said, "I know this girl [Precious]. I know her in my family, I know her in my friends, I've seen her, I've lived beside this girl. . . . I didn't want to be friends with those girls because they had too much drama going on in their lives. I feel guilty for having ignored them."
G. Some people, like Mary, are simply malevolent and damaged beyond repair. All you can do is to remove them from your life.
H. Parents are responsible for protecting their children, no matter how difficult it may be. Mary utterly failed in her duty to nurture Precious.
5. At the end of the movie, Mary schedules an appointment with the social worker in which she tries to explain herself. First, Precious and then the social worker get up and leave. Was Mary simply evil and irredeemably broken as a human being? Or were Precious and the social worker wrong to reject Mary's request for understanding? Also, under what circumstances, if any, would you advise Precious to try to reconcile with Mary later in life? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response. A good discussion will include the following positions.
Argument that Mary was Simply Evil and that Precious was Right to Leave and Should Stay Far Away from Mary: Adults have obligations to protect children and Mary simply failed to fullfil that duty. In fact, she actively hurt Precious and used Precious for Mary's own selfish needs. According to Mary, the sexual abuse began when Precious was three years old. There is no way that a child of three or for that matter a child of ten or fifteen can protect herself (or himself) from abuse by an adult. Mary also cheated the government and used Mongo for that purpose. Mary also intimidated her own mother and forced the older lady to cooperate in the deception of the government. There is, in fact, no element of Mary's personality that shows any positive or redeeming feature. For Precious, the only way to protect herself from Mary is simply to leave. The social worker's first responsibility was to Precious and she was correct to leave as well and to refrain from taking any further steps to get mother and daughter together. In fact, a strong argument could be made that all Mary really wanted out of the interview with the social worker and Precious was for Precious to come home so that Mary could get a welfare check again.6. How should Precious explain his parentage to Abdul? Should she tell him the truth? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer. One argument would contend that the truth is always better. Abdul needs to be taught that we don't choose our parents, we choose who we become; we don't choose our circumstances in life, we choose what we make of those circumstances. What Abdul needs to know is that his mother loves him and that she seized control of her life and made the best of her circumstances. Another position might be that if the secret could be kept, then it would be better to lie. If the secret could not be kept, then it may or may not. It might depend upon the whether during the period that the lie was maintained Abdul could develop enough self-respect to weather the disclosure if the truth came out.
7. [Before asking this question consider showing the deleted scene of Precious in the incest survivor's group. In that scene Precious discloses that eventually she came to enjoy the sexual intercourse forced upon her by her father. This scene was too raw and truthful to put into the movie but is included in the deleted scenes section of the DVD.] Ask the class to think of the reasons that children who are physically and sexually abused usually don't report that abuse. A full discussion will cover the following topics; a good discussion will cover most of them. The reasons are not set out in any particular order.
For ten additional discussion questions, click here.
Most of the discussion questions in this Learning Guide and in the Supplemental Materials can be used as essay prompts. If students were given TWM's Film Study Worksheet for Precious teachers can have them prepare written responses as homework or as an in-class writing assignment.
Additional ideas for assignments are set out below.
1. Write a description of where Precious and her family will be in five years. The description should at least answer the following questions: Will Precious be able to survive as an HIV positive person? Will she still be a mother to her children? How good a mother will she be? Will she be pursuing her education?
2. It is five years later and Precious is dying of AIDS. Write the letter that she would write to Abdul to be opened when he was 12 years old.
3. Imagine that you are a film critic for a major newspaper. Write a review of the film, "Precious". Be sure to support your conclusions with evidence and logical arguments. Your review should provide a one-paragraph description of the film that will tell the audience a little about the movie without giving away the entire plot. It should also include your view of the strength and weaknesses of the movie and your evaluation of the experience of watching it.
4. Read and analyze the Langston Hughes poem em>Mother to Son and describe whether the themes of this poem relate to the themes of the film. Who in this story can you see reading the poem to whom?
5. Read the Screen Play for Precious and pick out four scenes that relate to important themes of the film. Describe the theme and how the passage relates to the theme. Try to avoid scenes in which the theme is explicitly stated.
See also Additional Assignments for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more . . . Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.
Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.
Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.
This Learning Guide was written by James Frieden.
This Guide was last revised on October 26, 2014.
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