'Precious' is adapted from black poet and author Sapphire's 1996 novel about the transformative journey of an obese, illiterate Harlem teenager who's been sexually abused by both parents and twice impregnated by her father. The movie's theme of perseverance and personal redemption won it the audience awards at both the Sundance and Toronto film festivals, and convinced some veteran Oscar watchers that its journey would take it all the way to the Academy Awards show in February.
Now, some of those Oscar watchers believe, the names of Winfrey, whose endorsements of books and movies are as common as Snuggies commercials, and Perry, author/writer/star of lowbrow farces featuring a cross-dressing matriarch named Madea, may be dragging it down.
Why else would the four critics on the Gothams nominating panel overlook 'Precious'?
It may be true that Winfrey's promotional shoulders aren't as strong as they once were, and I do think Perry's 'Madea' movies debase their audience rather than uplift them. It may also be that when the movie opens, people will be so oversold by a week's worth of 'Precious' promotion on 'Oprah' that both critics and audiences will be set up for disappointment.
But over the long haul, the idea that Winfrey's name, in particular, will hurt 'Precious' with snooty Academy Awards voters is silly. The movie community is insular, and Winfrey, thanks to her Oscar nomination for 'The Color Purple,' is a member in gilded standing. If she says a movie about the black experience in America is worth watching, Academy voters are more likely to watch it than not.
'Precious' is violent, profane, disturbing and without the production values that Hollywood cherishes. And no matter how much it is loved at festivals or by critics, the movie has no chance at Oscar nominations unless a large percentage of Academy members see it and love it.
The upshot here is that if 'Precious' does not get a best picture Oscar nomination, Winfrey and Perry will be blamed for starting the backlash that did it in. And if it does get one, it will have done so despite them.
But to get back to the Gothams, minor awards by anyone's measure, I have it on very good authority that the names of Winfrey and Perry weren't even mentioned during the deliberations of the best picture nominating panel. Crazy as it must sound to 'Precious'' most zealous fans, it's likely that the panel members just saw five movies they liked better.
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