Oprah using her clout to promote harrowing Precious
Last Updated: Sunday, September 13, 2009 | 12:40 PM ET
By Jessica Wong, CBC News
Watching the harrowing urban coming-of-age film Precious left Oprah Winfrey gasping for air, but it also immediately compelled the talk-show maven to contact its filmmaker, Lee Daniels, to see how she could help champion the movie, which screens Sunday night at the Toronto International Film Festival.
"It is so raw that it will suck the air out of the room at the end of the film and I think that's a very good thing," Winfrey told a packed room of journalists and photographers at a Sunday morning press conference for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire at Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel. After the film screened at the Sundance film festival, Winfrey came on board as an executive producer.
She was joined by a strong contingent in Toronto to promote the film, including director Daniels, author and poet Sapphire, co-producer Tyler Perry and stars Gabourey Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey and Sherri Shepherd. R&B singer Mary J. Blige, also in Toronto, drew from her own experiences as a survivor of abuse to write the film's theme song.
"None of us who sees the movie can now walk through the world and allow the Preciouses of the world to be invisible," Winfrey said of the main character, an illiterate, overweight teenage girl pregnant for the second time by incest and the victim of heartbreaking physical, mental and verbal abuse.
Winfrey added that she looked forward to having cast members on her show, as well as to using her magazine, her satellite radio channel and other platforms "to bring in different audiences" to the movie.
Light amid the dark
Despite the shocking violence of the film — actress-comedienne Mo'Nique's acclaimed performance as Precious's mother is noteworthy here — Perry emphasized that the story ultimately leaves the audience with a sense of hope. For Daniels, who produced the acclaimed Monster's Ball, the story also inspires self-reflection.
"We take so much for granted," Daniels said. "I take the fact that I can read for granted. I take the fact that I can breathe for granted. I take the fact that I'm healthy for granted … I'm grateful for Precious's story. It makes me grateful to be alive."
The periods of extreme darkness in the film, for instance, are broken up by vivid fantasy sequences from the lead character's imagination and by engaging scenes of her attending the alternative school that helps pull her into a new life.
"We needed to breathe," Daniels said of the film's escapist, sometimes whimsical scenes. "If we stayed in that dark place we would flatline. So just when we couldn't take it anymore, we pull back into a fantasy or we pull into laughter. We talk about Mariah's race. We continue to surprise."
Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire opens in the U.S. and Canada in December.