Hope for "Precious"


Child sexual abuse cases are reported up to 80,000 times a year, but the number of unreported instances is far greater according to the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry. Why? Children are afraid to tell anyone what has happened, and the legal procedure for validating an episode is difficult. The frequent occurrence of child sexual and physical abuse makes films like Precious reflect more truth than it should.

The movie, set in 1987, is a story of an obese, illiterate, black 16-year-old Harlem girl named Claireece "Precious" Jones and her not so uncommon dysfunctional family. Precious, played by Gabourey Sidibe, in her acting debut, has been raped and impregnated twice by her father, Carl, and suffers constant physical, mental, and sexual abuse from her unemployed mother, Mary. Precious' first child, known only as "Mongo" (short for "Mongoloid"), has Down syndrome and is being cared for by her grandmother. After Precious becomes pregnant a second time, she is suspended from school. Precious is a film adaptation of the award-winning 1996 novel Push: A Novel by Sapphire.

This movie will make you cry. I was particularly moved by its depiction of those who tried to give Precious a chance at improving her life, including an amazing schoolteacher and a social worker. My personal dream one day is for this level of brokenness to be handled well by the church.

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One of great ironies about evangelicals is that churches that have the most resources---in terms of pastoral counseling, clinical Christian counseling services, attorneys, empty nesters, nurses, doctors, teachers, etc.---tend to be located in communities far removed from the rural and urban contexts where we find high concentrations of openly needy kids who are handed over to government to deal with levels of sin and brokenness that desperately need supernatural intervention. We complain about "welfare" programs but don't live near people needing those services and offer them better alternatives.

I wish I had good answers about connecting Christians with the most gifts and resources to people with the most desperate needs---a situation that's often called a "spatial mismatch." The problems of the physical and sexual abuse of children are everywhere, but those hurting in communities with resources have the greatest access to help. What brought me to agony in this film was the lack of options Precious had in terms of knowing where to go for help.

Many Christians will not like this film because of its accurate portrayal of verbal and physical abuse, but Precious is true for many rural and urban girls. I long for the day when movies like this will show the church functioning as a normal part of the help narrative. But that will require two things: (1) Christians with the best resources living in openly broken communities, and (2) a strong Christian presence in the film industry. Until then, the imagination of film audiences will be left with stories of hopelessness and despair at the brokenness of the world.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of The Political Economy of Liberation and Black and Tired. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.


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