Literature: Push

aka: Precious

"Some folks has a lot of things around them that shines for other peoples. I think that maybe some of them was in tunnels. And in that tunnel, the only light they had, was inside of them. And then long after they escape that tunnel, they still be shining for everybody else."
Clareece 'Precious' Jones

A 1996 novel by Sapphire. Push earned numerous accolades before coming to the screen in 2009 as Precious: Based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire, starring Gabourey Sidibe as Precious.

Clareece Jones, aka "Precious," is an obese, illiterate African-American teenager living in Harlem with her parents. As the story opens, Clareece is pregnant with her second child (both the child she has and the child she's pregnant with are products of rape by her father, Carl). Her relationship with her mother Mary, meanwhile, is even worse (mostly physical and verbal abuse, but there is some implications of sexual abuse as well). But things start to look up when she's transferred to a GED program. There, she makes friends with a kind social worker, Mrs. Weiss; a teacher named Ms. Rain; and a few students.

The movie version, Precious: Based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire" was nominated for 3 Golden Globes, winning one (Best Supporting Actress for Mo'Nique) and 6 Oscars, winning 2, (Best Supporting Actress for Mo'Nique and Best Writing for Geoffrey Fletcher, also marking the first time an African-American has won that award solo.)

A sequel to the book was published in 2011, called The Kid, about Precious' son Abdul. The book received mixed reviews.

Not to be confused with the movie about psychics.

The novel and film feature examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Precious's father has repeatedly raped her, and her mother has gone as far as to, among other acts, toss a TV at her after falling down the steps with her son, Abdul. She also forces Precious to have sex with her —explicit in the novel, implied in the movie
  • Adults Are Useless: In the book, it's not a secret that Precious is pregnant by her father at twelve or that her mother beats her; when she gives birth the first time, Precious tells the nurse filling out the birth certificate that she and her baby have the same father, but the nurse's only reaction is to tsk-tsk her over being pregnant so young and all of the adults in Precious' life (including her grandmother, neighbor, and elementary school teachers) utterly fail to intervene, and the social worker employed to check on Little Mongo falls for Mary's scam hook, line, and sinker. She doesn't find any kind of help until she's well into her teens.
    • Special mention for Precious' elementary school principal. When her teacher comes to him because she doesn't know how to help Precious, who (being horribly traumatized, but unable to make herself talk about it) wets herself and zones out in class, he advises her to just give up on her altogether and be grateful she isn't a disruption.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: While being diagnosed as HIV+ is still a serious matter today, during the movie's late-1980's setting it was considered a death sentence. Mostly, because it was. It was also mistakenly considered to affect only gays.
  • Ambiguously Brown: There's a scene where Precious and Miss Weiss are talking, and Precious can't tell what ethnicity she is, and asks if she's "Italian, or black, or some type of Spanish." In the book, Ms. Weiss is white and Precious does not fully trust her.
  • Anvils That Needed To Be Dropped: Though some claim it's a case of Anvilicious.
  • Ascended Extra: The young actress who plays Ruby (the little girl in Precious' building) started out as an extra.
  • Author Avatar: Ms. Rain
  • Beauty Inversion and Playing Against Type: Mariah Carey as Precious' social worker in the movie. She is almost unrecognizable. Gabourey Sidibe is also made to look larger using unflattering clothes and hairstyles along with a menacing, surly glower. Sherri Shepard as the receptionist at the alternative school. She has braids and is also almost unrecognizable, but not nearly as much as Mariah Carey. Still counts as Adaptational Attractiveness because even at their least glamorous, the actors are much better looking than the characters as described in the book.
    • Mo'Nique, primarily known for comedic roles, took both tropes Up to Eleven. In the book, Mary is morbidly obese to the point of not being able to fit in the bathtub; the scenes in the movie where Mary forces Precious to overeat actually serve her characterization just as well, if not better, than the book, because of Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe's respective builds.
  • The Bechdel Test: A rare case of an inverted failure, or near-failure. The only dialogue between male characters not involving a woman consists of a few angry words between a teacher and a student at the very beginning. The only significant male character, John McFadden, interacts solely with women.
  • Berserk Button: Calling Precious fat (in the film at least). One of her classmates learned the hard way.
  • Break the Cutie
  • Bully Hunter: In the book, Precious herself; she takes it upon herself to be a one-woman police force on behalf of her math teacher and keeps other rowdy kids in line. Despite her lashing out to cover her insecurities about being illiterate, they do seem to appreciate each other, and it's implied that this is how the school first noticed her aptitude for math.
  • But Not Too Black:
    • The saintly and fair-skinned Ms. Rain rescues poor, black-as-ebony Precious from a life of misery and woe. In the novel, however, Ms. Rain was actually darker skinned with somewhat messy dredlocks.
    • In the book, Precious has a poster of Louis Farrakhan on her bedroom wall, and speaks about his sermons on self-respect. In the film, she has only white film stars on her wall. It's to emphasize her poor self-image (and how she believes that white people have it better than she does), but still. Precious also explicitly states that among her many dreams is to have a light-skinned boyfriend.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Precious repeatedly drops "Bitch" and "Shit" into her dialogue. So does Mary, who also gives us the charming epithet "cunt bucket".
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The poster, seen above. This one's less Hitchcock-y. This one tells the whole story.
  • Determinator: Precious. "I cried the other day. I felt stupid. But you know what? Fuck that day. That's why God, or whoever, makes new days."
  • Deus Angst Machina: Just when you think it couldn't get worse for Precious, it's learned that her father died of AIDS, meaning she's now HIV-positive. A bright spot, however, is that both her children are HIV-negative.
  • The '80s: The novel is set in 1987.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Despite contracting HIV from her father, Precious manages to dig herself out of the hell of her past life. She is reading at a near high school level by the end of the film, has new friends, severs all ties with her mother, is in possession of both her children, and has gained a new lease on life. Her next move as the film ends is to complete a GED test, which will allow her to graduate high school. As of her death at the beginning of the sequel, 10 years later, she makes it to college, too.
  • Fat Bastard: In the novel, Precious notes that Mary is literally too obese to bathe; she can't fit in the tub anymore. In both versions she forces Precious to overeat as part of her abuse pattern. In the novel, Mary molests her when eating so much makes her fall asleep in front of the TV.
  • Freudian Excuse: The reason for Precious's antagonistic relationship with her mother was her mom being jealous that her husband would rather have sex with his daughter than with her. In her mother's eyes, Precious was stealing him away from her.
    But, those... those things she told you I did to her? Who... who... who else was going to love me? WHO else was going to touch me? WHO else was going to make me feel good?
    • In the novel, Mary doesn't have one, and the scene with Ms. Weiss is pretty different. She does hate Precious for taking Carl's attention away from her, but she had been sexually abusing Precious with him since the first time he attempted to rape her when she was three years old. Precious recounts that her first memory was of both parents molesting her in their kitchen.
  • Hope Spot: In the novel, after reading The Color Purple, it dawns on Precious that it's possible that Carl might not actually be her biological father. He is, but the sheer magnitude of her mother's ignorance on the subject completely eclipses anything else about it, and Precious moves on without giving the idea any further thought.
  • Inner City School
  • Ignorant of Their Own Ignorance: Both Mary and Precious, in different ways. Mary (like many people at the time) has no idea that she's been exposed to HIV because she thinks it only spreads through anal sex. The much more heartbreaking example is Precious: she's been living in the Small Secluded World of her horribly abusive mother's home all her life. She knows very well that her father forced her to have sex with him against her will, but it's not until after Abdul is born that it dawns on her that maybe she was raped.
  • Internalized Categorism: Precious' internalized racism is painful, particularly in the novel, where she muses that no one can tell she's like a white girl on the inside because she views whiteness as inherently good and valued. It's not until the end of the book that she develops a more positive view of herself, especially after she attends a support group for incest survivors, and meets women of all ages, shapes and colors who have faced abuse similar to what she suffered.
  • Love Makes You Evil: And dumb, and crazy, but not in the way those tropes suggest. Mary has been in love with Carl since she was sixteen, and thinks he can do no wrong, despite his raping of Precious since she was a toddler and having a wife and children on the side and spreading AIDS. In the book, she happily tells Ms. Weiss how much she loved him even while he was raping their daughter while the three of them were in bed together, and it's implied that Mary started sexually abusing Precious with him to keep his attention.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Mary's thoughts on Precious, particularly in the movie, where she explicitly blames Precious for everything Carl did because she didn't fight him off.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping
  • One Mario Limit: For the film, as applied to titles. There was another 2009 film (an Action Movie) titled Push, so whether the...erm...unique title of the film was planned ahead of time or not, it helped avoid confusion (one doubts that there's much overlap between the two films' audiences). They did however go a bit overboard calling it 'Precious (Base On Nol By Saf) (Based On The Novel 'Push' By Sapphire)' (mimicking the way Precious writes when she is first learning how to). When the movie tie-in edition of Push was released, the cover read "Push: A Novel by Sapphire. Now a Major Motion Picture 'Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" By Sapphire'" to the confusion of readers and booksellers alike.
  • Oscar Bait: The film version.
  • Parental Incest: From both parents, no less.
  • Save Our Students
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: In a few places. The movie has REALLY surreal moments. The most bizarre might be the scene where Precious and her mother fight, accompanied by a gospel Christmas song.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Twice, in fact Precious' first pregnancy is almost a preteen pregnancy. In the book, it is a preteen pregnancy; Little Mongo is born when Precious is 12.
  • The Mistress: Mary, in the book. She calls him her husband, but Carl has a wife and two other children of his own. It's not clear whether they know about Mary or Precious, but Mary doesn't seem to care or count it as any kind of infidelity, despite how she feels about Precious "stealing" Carl away when he rapes her.
  • The Unfair Sex: Precious's mom is just as bad (if not worse) than her father in terms of how she treats her daughter. Of course, we don't get a scene of her father being confronted or confessing in tears that he was also abused, either.
    • Averted in the book. Mary is just as bad as Carl, if not worse; in the movie, Mary clearly knows what Carl was doing was wrong, objected, and cries upon realizing how horrible she's been, only to go right back into denial and blaming Precious for driving Carl away. In the book, she admits she watched Carl attempt to rape Precious as a toddler, and when he succeeded, she effectively stopped thinking of Precious as human.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Implied with Mary in the book. Precious tells her to get tested after finding out that Carl died of AIDS; Mary responds that since she and Carl never had anal sex, she couldn't have HIV. While that attitude was pretty typical of the time, even Precious, illiterate and with a limited education, knows how amazingly ignorant it is.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Precious in the movie.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Lil Mongo, Precious's first daughter. Yes, they name her mongoloid.

Alternative Title(s):

Precious