Can We Stop Calling Gabby Sidibe “Precious” Now?

November 7, 2011  |  

by Charing Ball

So over the weekend, I re-watched Lee Daniel’s Precious, with the expectation that perhaps I would feel differently about it than the first time I saw the movie.

The first time I saw the movie was at a local film festival in which Lee Daniels and a still unknown Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe were in attendance. I remember vividly the people around me laughing and making fun of the main character, especially at the part when Clarice Precious Jones steals a bucket of fried chicken from the soul food joint and the part of the film when crazy Mary curses out Precious with the line, “You better go down to the welfare.”  That would instantly become the signature catch phrase from the movie.

The first time I saw it, I just felt that whatever redeeming, moralistic value the film had would be lost in the sheer sensationalism of Precious.  Anyway, that was two years ago and there is no need in rehashing that debate again.  Everyone has pretty much moved on – well almost.

Gabby Sidibe sure has.  Despite the “concern” from those, who felt that Hollywood, with its fixations of petite starlets, wouldn’t make room for a woman that defies conventional standards of beauty, Sidibe has landed various roles in movies and television including Yelling To The Sky and The Big C.  And most recently, she played a wisecracking, money-jacking Jamaican maid in the new Eddie Murphy comedy Tower Heist. Yet despite her ability to crave a way for her in tinsel town, folk just can’t seem to get over her roots.  Like, how on Friday, I was driving in to work, listening to the radio and caught the end of a Gabby Sidibe interview on the radio, in which she was promoting the Tower Heist movie. After the interview, The DJ said, ”okay, I wanna thank Precious for calling in today…” Now that’s just messed up.

And unfortunately, it is not an isolated incident. Everyone calls that girl Precious like it’s her real name. In fact a typical conversation around Sidibe goes something like this: Me: “So have you heard about Gabby Sidibe’s new role?” Random Person: “Nuh-uh. Who is that?” Me: *eye rolls* “Precious.” Random Person: “Ooh yeah. Precious. Why didn’t you just say Precious?” Because that’s not her damn name everyone. I mean no one ever confuses Halle Berry for Catwoman or Angela Bassett for Tina Turner. So why can’t folks seem to separate Sidibe, the person, from the bleak character in which she played in the film?

Okay, I sort of get it and in some ways, the confusion is understandable:  Just like the hero in Precious the film, Sidibe is an obese dark-skinned woman.  And that is pretty much where the parallels end. In real life, Sidibe is the completely opposite. A woman, who comes from a loving home and has not, as far as we know, suffered any childhood trauma such as rape, abuse and incest as what was experienced by her character.  Yet Sidibe finds herself in the awkward position of correcting people who have and continue to confuse the movie as some sort of documentary of her life.

Honestly I think that folks do this because she represents the two things that Americans, but more specifically Black folks, loathe the most: being fat and being dark-skinned.  Whether we like to admit it or not, people subconsciously relate very negative traits and stereotypes to both of those clusters of people.  Dark skinned people are ugly while fat people are lazy.  Part of the reason is how society defines beauty and worth, which tends to hinge on being lighter and having thinner aesthetic.

And although we are a country of fatties and most folks in the Black community probably have skin-tones and facial features closer to Sidibe, we don’t feel very much sympathy to characters, who go against the grain of what is suppose to be normal.  Therefore, it is much more easier to redefine Sidibe as Precious, the abused, downtrodden character worthy of our pity, or more accurately, our ridicule, than to see her as the bubbly and fun-loving, sexual, comfortable-in-her-skin, woman that she truly is.  And yeah, that kind of sucks.

Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.

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