The NAACP House of Shame: Precious and the Big Payback

Monique and Preciousby Ishmael Reed
There is no Black image so foul that the NAACP will not embrace it – for a price. Tyler Perry's money bought much love for “Precious,” the “abhorent,” “repugnant” film. “The NAACP has given the segregated Motion Picture Academy an excuse to perpetrate a cruel joke on the black Americans.”
The NAACP House of Shame: Precious and the Big Payback
by Ishmael Reed
This article previously appeared in Counterpunch.
Mr. Reed wrote this piece before the Academy Award presentations, at which actress Mo’Nique and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher won Oscars. – BAR editors.
The film “Precious” received six awards from the NAACP as a kind of payback to Tyler Perry who donated one million plus dollars to the organization last November.”
"I think he's mentally ill. He's lost it. It's like he's departed from being a creative artist to being a basher. ... He's a forgotten man, eclipsed by women ascending to new heights and getting prizes. Instead of applauding them, he goes on a rampage." -- Sapphire on Ishmael Reed’s state of mind, The St. Louis Post Dispatch, February 28, 2010.
Suppose the producers of a nominated picture like “Hurt Locker” donated one million dollars to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and on the night of the Oscar presentations “Hurt Locker” received Oscars for best picture, best actress, best supporting actress and a special honor was awarded to the “producer.”
This is exactly what happened at the NAACP Image awards last Friday night. The film “Precious” received six awards as a kind of payback to Tyler Perry who donated one million plus dollars to the organization last November.
As a result, the NAACP gave segregated Hollywood the green light to admire this abhorrent, repellant movie. They must be gloating over at (Entertainment Weekly) sites with connections to the Oscars establishment and where my Op-Ed about “Precious,” printed in The New York Times, was the subject of criticism by Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum. Their criticism was picked up by Sasha Stone at They and the bloggers who weighed in about my state of mind and my low I.Q. and how I was connected to the part of the body that plays a key role in the elimination of wastes will probably use these NAACP awards as justification for their defense of the film and as evidence of the black community’s support for “Precious.”
Owen Gleiberman, a man whom I have never met, said that my criticism of the movie said more about me than about the movie. He never said what my criticism of the movie said about me. I also challenged Ms. Scwarzbaum to comment about an article printed in a Jewish magazine, Tablet (“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Why Jewish producers kept Jewish women off stage and screen,” 10/20/’09), which pointed to the discrimination against Jewish women by Jewish producers, from the early days of Hollywood to the period of Woody Allen and Larry David (a guy who thinks it funny to appear in a scene eating a cookie shaped like a black penis.)
The producers’ justification, historically, was that they didn’t want their women to play the kind of roles they assigned to black and white gentile women.
The NAACP gave segregated Hollywood the green light to admire this abhorrent, repellant movie.”
Ms. Scwarzbaum didn’t answer, but seems satisfied with the roles assigned to black women in “Precious,” which now bears the imprimatur of the NAACP, the nation’s leading Civil Rights organization. On Tuesday, when I debated Cameron Bailey, the African American co-director of the Toronto Film Festival, who brought the film to Canada, the NAACP awards were the first thing that he brought up. He also followed the sales pitch directed by Lionsgate that the critics of the film were either odd or mentally ill, as a way of minimizing the widespread discontent about this film among black Americans. The sales office has singled out Armond White as the lone critic opposing the film, and seeks to dismiss him as a “contrarian,” a trend begun by the New York Times’ critic A.O. Scott, for whom the family in “Precious” was the typical impoverished black family. Bailey used the same word to criticize White.
Now, Bailey and the critics at EW, including amateur shrink Owen Gleiberman, and Sasha Stone would probably be outraged by a white producer receiving awards from an organization of which he is a benefactor, but wlll probably ignore or even seek to justify the million dollars-plus donation that Tyler Perry, producer of “Precious,” gave to the NAACP in November.
Now if I am mentally ill for criticizing this film as Sapphire suggests, then I’m lucky to be spared the kind of racism that black mental patients experience. I’ve examined the kind of treatment accorded the poor and the black, the kind of people who are treated like trash by city governments, the kind of people who are experimented upon by the pharmaceutical companies, while white middle class patients receive talk therapy. Black kids are treated with toxic anti-depressant drugs even when it’s not necessary, a clear case of behavior modification. I had enough creative ability remaining to stage a play, called Body Parts, about the exploitation of African Americans and Africans by rogue pharmaceutical companies that distribute drugs with full knowledge of harmful results. Paying stiff fines is just the cost of doing business. In this play and others I, with the help of Berkeley’s Black Repertory Theater and The Nuyorican Poets Café, have created roles that challenge black actors and actresses, instead of degrading them with cliché roles as male sexual predators, prostitutes and women who marry their husband’s executioner.
Cecil Brown and I produced the movie “Two Fer” about conflicts on a college campus, which like “The Great Debaters” and “Miracle at Saint Anna” isn’t likely to wow a crossover audience. Spike Lee’s “The Miracle at Saint Anna” was praised at a reception I attended which honored those Buffalo Soldiers who liberated Italian towns and cities during World War II.
When is the last time you saw black soldiers enacting heroic deeds in a film?”
It was held on Feb.12, at the San Francisco Presidio, where the audience viewed the movie “Inside Buffalo.” The black soldiers received honors from the Italians years before honors came for them during the Clinton administration. They were commanded by Southern officers because they were said to know how to handle Niggers and were often sent to the front without adequate ammunition. It was Spike Lee who brought this story to the screen instead of Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg, who can do “Mr.” (in the Color Purple) but can’t find space in his war movies for Ivan J. Houston, a Buffalo Soldier, author of the book, Black Warriors, The Buffalo Soldiers of World War II. When is the last time you saw black soldiers enacting heroic deeds in a film?
Some of those at the reception, attended by over four hundred Italians, Italian Americans and others wept when an official from the Italian consulate told the black soldiers, “We will never forget.”
In Oakland, the theater that presented “Miracle at Saint Anna” offered only one showing at 10:30 p.m. “Saint Anna” was eclipsed by “Precious.”
Sapphire charges that I have been eclipsed by black women authors, many of whom I was the first to publish. She says that I have been left behind with no prizes. That may be true, but the same can’t be said about some of the prominent black women intellectuals and authors who have been offended by Sarah Siegel’s movie. One of the black women writers whom I published when she was a student is Terri McMillan. Al Young and I were also the first to publish an excerpt from Ntozake Shange’s “Colored Girls….” I introduced the poetry of the late Lucille Clifton to Langston Hughes who published her in a major anthology for the first time. (If an “old” - the adjective some of the young black womanist defenders of the film used about me - loser like me can manage to publish the works of over thirty black women writers from the U.S and Africa over the last five years, why can’t Sapphire do the same and shouldn’t she avoid verbs like “rampaging” in light of her poem “Wild Thing” which helped create the hysteria that resulted in five black and Hispanic kids being sent to prison for a crime that they didn’t commit.)
During a recent interview that I conducted with Terri McMillan, the most popular of African American women writers, she was fuming as she said that the film “went too far.” Sapphire might dismiss me as mentally ill and jealous of black women who have eclipsed me and left me without prizes, but what is her answer to Ms. McMillan who is certainly not hurting for book sales, or Princeton Professor Melisa Harris-Lacewell? Is she crazy? Does her criticism of “Precious” say more about her than about the movie? She wrote, “Undoubtedly Mo'Nique has given an amazing performance in Precious. But the critical and popular embrace of this depiction of a monstrous black mother has potentially important, and troubling, political meaning.”
Ms. Ridley would rather earn her keep by singing in the New York subway than perform in ‘Precious.’”
Apparently Gabourey Sidibe’s mother Alice Tan Ridley also has problems with the film. My response to my critic Sasha Stone and the mob of hateful furious bloggers she raised at awardsdaily was that during one of her shopping sprees in Paris she might buy some gifts for Ms. Ridley. She’s the real heroine of this whole sorry business. Ms. Ridley was offered a role in the movie but after reading the novel “Push” turned it down. She’d rather earn her keep by singing in the New York subway than perform in “Precious.”
When I informed the hateful bloggers at of this fact they said that I’d made it up, but when I referred them to YouTube, where she belts out a stirring rendition of “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” they thought it cruel of me to direct them to the video. They are part of a nation of junkies, and “Precious” has become a sort of non-prescription drug for them.  A cheap high. Some of those whites who defended the film against my criticisms admitted that they hadn’t even seen it – and I’m suffering from mental illness?   Now the NAACP award will provide them with more psychological methadone. It will give the all white Oscars’ Board of Governors (37 men, 6 women) an excuse to salute this evil wretched thing, whose reward by the NAACP shows the sad decline of Julian Bond, who, when a young man, had a future so bright that he was considered for a vice presidential nomination. (Vice President of the Board of Governors is Kathleen Kennedy, who gave us “The Color Purple.” This means that “Precious” is a shoo-in for one of two Oscars.)
On Friday night, Julian Bond, the outgoing president of an organization that has been fighting stereotypes since 1915, shared the stage with a serial stereotypes trafficker and union buster, Tyler Perry, whose movie efforts were summed up by Spike Lee, the director of at least three movie classics as: “coonery and buffoonery.”
In the New York Times, Charles Blow, in a column called “Tyler Perry’s Crack Mother,” challenged the repeated use of the black crack mother image by the film-maker. He cited a 2007 study of college undergraduates published in the Journal of Ethnicity and Substance Abuse which found that young blacks’ rates of illicit drug use was substantially lower than their counterparts, with black women having the lowest rates of all.” Yet Owen Gleiberman says that the movie reflects reality. One of the awards ceremony’s guests was Quentin Tarantino, whose movie “Pulp Fiction” was full of lame and goofy racist jokes and memorable lines like:
Jimmie: "When you came pullin' in here, did you notice a sign on the front of my house that said 'Dead Nigger Storage?'"
Jules: "Jimmie, you know I ain't seen no shit…"... More »
Tyler Perry’ movie efforts were summed up by Spike Lee as: ‘coonery and buffoonery.’”
Why was Julian Bond looking so grim during the ceremonies?  He has a sense of history. He knows that the NAACP was not founded by minstrels but by intellectuals. They fought “Birth Of A Nation” and “Gone With The Wind.” Walter White, then NAACP’s secretary, went to Hollywood in 1942 and protested the roles in which black actors were cast. One of his allies was ex-presidential candidate, Wendell Willkie, who, during a speech delivered at a luncheon for Hollywood big wigs at 20th Century Fox, said:
“… that many of the persons responsible for Hollywood films belong to a racial and religious group which had been a target of Hitler, and that they should be the last to be guilty of doing to another minority the things which had been done to them.”
White “urged Hollywood to have courage enough to shake off its fears and taboos and to depict the Negro in flims as a normal human being and an integral part of the life of America and the world.” Walter White was opposed by those actors who benefited from stereotypical roles that in hindsight seem benign in light of the kind of black characters that Hollywood is selling today.
If the [NAACP] secretary had charmed producers, directors, and white stars, many of Hollywood’s African American actors were downright hostile to his presence. They were furious that he came to town and tried to change the movies without consulting them. The Mammy stereotype and clownish roles had provided a steady income for Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, Stepin Fetchit, Clarence Muse, and a handful of others. Fearing the secretary’s attempt to clean up the industry would result in their loss of livelihoods, they were gleeful when his first foray produced pious sentiment and little else. White disagreed, believing that his agitation would lead to expanded acting opportunities. But more to the point, he scorned his critics. Realistically, he said, he didn’t expect thanks for his work, but he did expect those actors, who ultimately benefit from his negotiations ‘without their having to lift a finger,’ would remain gratefully silent.’”*
Though White didn’t accomplish much his agitation did succeed in getting David O. Selznick to replace the black rapist in Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With The Wind,” with a white one but now the black rapist is back in full force with “Precious,” and its business model “The Color Purple”; even President Obama was shown on MAD TV as a Mandingo stud in bed with Hillary Clinton. Sapphire says that we need more films about black rapists.
Even President Obama was shown on MAD TV as a Mandingo stud in bed with Hillary Clinton.”
In the days of Walter White and Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP had some fight, but now this proud organization has been reduced to becoming a ward of corporate America. Promoting the artery clogging products of fast foods merchants. Taking money from criminal banks like the Bank of America and from FedEx, which recently had to pay 50 million dollars to black employees for racial discrimination, which is something that Annie Day of the Revolutionary Communist Party might note. She wrote a piece denouncing my CounterPunch article “The Selling Of Precious.” She called me--you guessed it--a “misogynist,” your typical white middle class feminist. Applying a double standard to white and black men; deferential toward their fathers, brothers, employers and gurus; unwilling to give the brothers some slack. This woman is part of a cult that revolves around a white patriarch--a cult that was abandoned by some blacks who accused it of “white chauvinism.” A woman or her co-writer Carl Dix, a black man, will never lead this group. Their praise of the movie “Precious” jibes with that of Barbara Bush. Strange bedfellows indeed. Imagine the Revolutionary Communist Party having to wake up every morning next to Barbara Bush.
The awards were also sponsored by Disney who’s “Princess and The Frog” demeans African religion, a fact noticed by the religion editor of the Times, Samuel G. Freedman (Times 2/20/’10). And now the NAACP has given the segregated** Motion Picture Academy an excuse to perpetrate a cruel joke on the black Americans on Sunday night by awarding an actress an Oscar whose role in the movie was to ask her daughter to assist her in achieving an orgasm. NAACP founders W.E.B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells, who risked her life to spark a drive to end the lynching of black men in the South, must be rolling over in their graves.
* White, The Biography of Walter White, Mr. NAACP by Kenneth Robert Janken. New York: The New Press, 2003.
* *The DGA [Directors Guild of America] reports that just 4% of its director membership is black; the WGA says that 4.5% of members employed as TV writers and 3.2% of members employed as film writers are black (as of 2007, the last year for which data is available). And Paris Barclay, director-showrunner of "In Treatment" and co-chair of the DGA's Diversity Task Force, estimates that up to 82% of all episodes in television are "directed by Caucasian men."





how it starts..

Just step into a christian or catholic church and you'll see the seeds of our inferiority complex.There is not one black icon on any of the stain glass windows.You introduce this kind of brain polluting crap to the mind of a child and you are guaranteed to have a child growing up with an inferiority complex.That same inferiority complex is what's behind us accepting anyone or anything which resembles anything close to acheiving racial success .We accept any one with a college education as being good for us..We accept any politician as being good for us....We accept any pimp preacher posing as men of high morals as being good for us...We accept any trash put out by hollywood or music producers as good for us as long as there are black actors or rappers involved.....Pride has no color..Once you have regular and pure pride,no one can play with your emotions and sell you shit that's no good for you

Symbolism "rules"

One of my ongoing critiques is how much Black folks just "looovee" symbolism, not that Whites, Hispanics and other's don't, the point is that a "Black" President, "Black" Congressman or "Black" CEO don't mean shit.  My cousin sent me a email today (she routinely sends emails highlighting some "slight" at Obama) mentioning Dan Rather making a statement that "Obama couldn't sell watermelons if you gave him state troopers to flag down the traffic."  Not exactly the most politically correct statement, but who can deny the thrust of it?
I'll see Rather and raise him "2":  "Obama couldn't sell crack cocaine if his life depended upon it."  He's probably f**kup by seeking a "bipartisan" relationship with meth dealers, you know what I mean?
Symbolic images are rooted deep in the human psyche.  There's an excellent book/study out called "The Hidden Brain," in it the author writes: 
Racial categorization begins at an extremely early age. Vedantam cites research from a day-care center in Montreal that found that children as young as 3 linked white faces with positive attributes and black faces with negative attributes.
"Now, these were children who are 3 years old," Vedantam says. "It is especially hard to call them bigots, or to suggest that they are explicitly racially biased or have animosity in their hearts."
Vedantam says the mind is hard-wired to "form associations between people and concepts." But he thinks that the links the children made between particular groups and particular concepts were not biologically based — those judgments came from culture and upbringing."
"We tend to think of the conscious messages that we give children as being the most powerful education that we can give them," Vedantam says — but the unconscious messages are actually far more influential.
Let me take this one step further Christianslayer1955.  If Jesus was depicted as Black or dark or brown-skinned (as he undoubtedly was/is) how many Whites would be Christians?  Perhaps a handful of Poles since they worship the Black Madonna, but the majority of good ol 'Mericans?  Nada.  They'd probably be engaged in some form of ancestor worship.  On the otherhand, if Black children thought Jesus was a "person of color" do you think that might be just a tad more "transformative" than a washed-out, sell-out psuedo-"Black" President?  Most Blacks won't be "successful" w/o a healthy dose of White-ass kissing anyway.  Ask the "rappers" if you doubt me.  Okay.... most people PERIOD won't be successful w/o a healthy doss of ass-kissing, ask the "successful" ones or watch their behavior if you don't believe me.
On the issue of symbolism, if Whites wanted to be both evil and effective, they'd arrange an outburst of "noose" incidents and throw in, for good measure, photos of Obama taped to the noose.  That would keep Black folks, including the NAACP, Urban League and the Congressional Black Caucus with enough fodder to keep their little minds busy for the rest of his term while he fucks them in the ass.  I pity the fool who's in love with symbolic achievement. 

Many, many thanks and kudos to Mr. Reed for speaking truth

I'm white, 60 yrs old, female, and knew, after hearing from a friend about Precious, that it was worse than horrible.  A violent attack on African-Americans.  Again. 
I went to hear Sapphire speak and felt like I was on Oprah.  It was a university setting, with no intellectual discussion. (I must admit, I had to leave for 1/2 hour or so to clear my mind.)  I got in the Q&A line and asked the author to respond to a paragraph Mr. Reed wrote in his first review on this site.  She became icey cold as I read.  Her answer was no answer at all.  At least 2 people (one black, one white) congratulated me afterwards for my courage.  Later I was depressed by anyone thinking that asking questions which might challenge Sapphire took courage.  At a major university, intellectual debate is dead?  One young audience member who I have an acquaintance with remarked on Sapphire's "rudeness" to me.  The way she responded (with anger) to my brief, critical reading was to say that "Asian authors write about Asian rapists, Middle Eastern authors write about Middle Eastern rapists, white authors......etc. and I'm black so I write about black rapists."  During her answer a soft audience applause crescendoed to a high volume by the end.  This is not an experience which I can forget. 
I am so very grateful to I Reed for expressing my own feelings in his writing, and so carefully researching many issues related to this movie.

Black Artists

I am not one to shirk from so-called "gritty reality" but I have no plans to watch this movie. I have better things to rent than Oscar-approved kitchen-table "torture porn." Obviously, sapphire's and Tyler Perry's backgrounds inform what they are doing artistically, and I understand that they have no obligation to suppress their vision and portray a differernt experience and outlook, I get that. I just find it shocking that they would be so insenstive to others' points of view, and they don't seem to grasp that we as Black artists and movie fans would like to have more artistic portrayals of Black life that involve Black people just being people - like white movie fans get with Adventureland, 500 Days of Summer, Away We Go, Whip It, An Eduation, A Serious Man, etc. Just like white kids, we work crappy jobs on our summers off (Adverntureland), we obsess over men/women we like (500 Days), we have obnoxious friends and sometimes travel to go see them (Away We Go), we are trying to find ourselves and our life's work when we're young (Whip It), we have life-changing relationships with mentors and make bad choices and yes get hurt (an Education), etc.
I'm sure Gleiberman and Schwartzbaum would argue that Black people wouldn't support a Black version of A Serious Man or 500 Days of Summer. Yeah, but guess what? WHITEs don't support those movies either!!! Black people in droves go to Medea's latest mess and Whites in droves go to Transformers 20; but golly gee, they still somehow find a way to keep producing the Whip Its and Adventurelands for them. So get off it!!
Finally, I also think it's bizarre that sapphire called Dr. Reed "mentally ill." To me, it would seem that someone who's suffered intense abuse at the hands of their parents would be in a state of mental suffering or maybe (we hope) has recoved from that state after intense therapy; therefore, I think it's shameful that that kind of term would be used so flagrantly and lightly. But hey, maybe that's just me......

A Note to Sapphire

Sapphire's comments about Ishmael Reed's state of mind are not only utterly ridiculous and mournfully ignorant, but also reveal the delusional mechanics of the  "prize equals validation" mentality that permeates  the celebrity driven nature of American culture . As the author of only one mediocre novel and a body of questionable poetry (that is if one considers Def Jam rant to be high art), Sapphire would do well to spend her time honing her craft instead of attempting to dismiss and vilify one of America's most esteemed literary titans as a mentally ill basher. Ishmael Reed, hardly forgotten, is in a league all his own. Many Americans not only revisit his enduring legacy of canonic literature and plays, we also anxiously anticipate Mr. Reed's ever mindful body of vigilant, insightful commentary that most recently  concerns the profiteering hollywood  cabal that seems bent on perpetuating the cinematic dissemination of black neo-minstrel laminates - the likes of which "Precious" is teeming with. For Sapphire to suggest that to be a creative artist is to be devoid of critical, intellectual or political agency is a direct affront to the legacies and ongoing activities of artists such as Paul Robeson, Nina Simone, Marian Anderson, Charles Mingus, James Baldwin, Max Roach, James Brown, Harry Belafonte, Stevie Wonder and Spike Lee among others. It is no wonder then, that Sapphire vehemently denies even the remote possibility of any existing substantial negative repercussions from her novel or  its  film adaptation. On the contrary, her imagery holds sway so convincingly  that it behooves her to continuously  reaffirm that "Push" is fiction instead of fact; it also requires the actors in "Precious" to have to make repeated public assurances that they themselves are not in real life the stereotypical characters that they depict in the film. Propping up mediocrity as genius is a  foreboding symptom of  the stutter and mounting brevity that characterizes  the reign of quantity that presently engulfs us. The lining of pockets at the expense of human decency lurks behind the embrace and support of this pathological  fiction as truth / abuse as industry phenomenon. Mr. Reed's analysis is a sobering retort to the  media's  enthusiastic yet hollow clamour of artistic excellence and cathartic redemption that "Precious" supposedly embodies.

The "Commoditization" of America

One of my favorite essayists is Joe Bageant.  He has an insightful and snarky perception.  Bageant has written a powerful essay on the commoditization of America, on our enslavement to materialism, and the by-products as reflected in American culture, what is now commonly referred to as "Pop Culture."   The essay is entitled: Round Midnight Tortillas and the Corporate State.  I found this paragraphs particularly prescient:
"It can now be honestly stated that mere goods and services express the citizenry and the American culture in its entirety. Citizenship in a consumer society is consumership. Consumer culture consumes all rival cultures, replacing them with "pop culture," which is simply deeming the marketplace as culture. Hip Hop is a good example. So is the modern cinema, and all of the music and book publishing industry. Corporate industry and its products are not culture, despite all the new definitions of culture bourgeois academia and the marketplace come up with on behalf of the corporations that fund both of them."
"Sapphire" and much of what Hollywood produces (if not all of it) is consumer culture, products of corporate industry norms and "tastes."  To view the landscape of "Black Art and Humanities" it is impossible not to conclude a sad state of affairs exist, due in no small part to corporate "gatekeepers" who dictate "artistic norms."  Hollywood dictates to the rest of us what is "normative."  How can one look at the financial and promotional aspects, let alone who is making production or directorial decisions and ignore institutional racism and biases at work??  Again, this explains an Oscar for the "Hurt Locker" and none for "Avatar" because "mainstream" (read White Middle America) understood "Avatar" to be an anti-imperialism/militarism film that attacked fundamental American mythology regarding "good and evil," whereas the "Hurt Locker" demonstrated the "noble" albeit "tortured" character of Americans, putting their lives on the line for the "little guy"?
Anyone who doesn't understand the subtleties that are not so subtle is fooling themselves and is not worthy of any award, aside that of the dunce cap.