"If… All You See Is Someone Who Is Overweight And Dark-Skinned, You've Missed The Point."


As part of the The New York Times Arts & Leisure Weekend, Precious actor Gabourey Sidibe and director Lee Daniels sat down for a conversation with moderator Patricia Cohen. Gabby was, as she usually is in interviews, amazing:

She was wearing a floral top, black pants and turquoise sneakers. She giggled a lot, and sometimes snorted when she laughed. She talked about how she didn’t want to audition for the movie at first, and had class that day, and remembered standing on a subway platform, thinking she could go uptown and go to school, or go downtown and read the lines. “I found myself on the downtown side,” explained.

When clips from the movie were shown, Cohen asked how Gabby felt when she watched herself on screen. “I feel very detached from Precious,” Gabby said. “I’m like, look at her little lips, she’s so cute! Its like she’s another girl.”

The conversation moved to general impressions of the film itself. Patricia Cohen mentioned that one film critic (not for the Times) said it was as damaging as Birth Of A Nation. (Actually, Armond White wrote: “Not since The Birth of a Nation has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as Precious… Full of brazenly racist clichés {Precious steals and eats an entire bucket of fried chicken}, it is a sociological horror show.”)

Lee Daniels’ response to this was: “Blah blah blah.” He also argued: “This is a universal story. She just happens to be black.” He spoke of a play version of Precious in London in which the cast was all white. “This is not a black story,” he said. “It happens to be by a black filmmaker. But people come up to me and say, ‘This is my story.’ And they’re not black. It’s a universal story.” In addition, Daniels admitted: “I realized my own prejudice. I thought people who looked like [Precious] were smelly, dumb, slovenly… Look at her,” he said, gesturing to Gabby Sidibe. “She’s beautiful.”

Gabby agreed with Daniels, saying, “If you look at Precious and all you see is someone who is overweight and dark-skinned, you’re missing the point. Just like if you look at me and all you see is someone who is overweight and dark-skinned. You’ve missed the point. You’ve missed me.”

Gabby talked about her own experiences growing up: “People called me ‘skillet’ and ‘midnight.’ But my father is 100% Senegalese. I’m not supposed to be light.” Cohen asked Gabby where her confidence comes from — parents? Family? Gabby replied: “I don’t think my brand of confidence can come from an outside source. I have to find it in myself. I have two little sisters who are 13 and they’re just at that age where they’re about to hate themselves. I do it for them. They think I’m pretty, and I want them to think they’re pretty.” She also admitted that there was a time that she felt sad because the world didn’t find her beautiful, but then she realized: “I am the world.”

The discussion touched on Daniels’ recent nomination for a Directors Guild of America award — he is the first African-American director to be nominated (?!?!) by the DGA — and his delight in using non-professional actors like Mariah Carey, Mo’Nique and Lenny Kravitz. There were exchanges about Mo’Nique’s character, Mary being a victim and a victimizer — and mentally ill. One woman in the audience who works in child abuse outreach told the panel that she sees a lot of “Preciouses,” and that there are 42,000 child abuse cases in New York City a year. Gabby also talked about being cast in The C Word, the new Showtime series with Laura Linney, in which Gabby plays “a funny, sarcastic mean girl.”

The movie Precious has been dissected and discussed at length, and much has been made of how the character Precious is decidedly not Gabby Sidibe. It was made even more apparent when Gabby said, bemused and confident: “People trip over themselves to tell me I’m beautiful. It’s cute. It’s cute, but I’m not buying it. I’m beautiful now because you can buy a ticket to see me on a screen? I was beautiful before.”

Earlier: Someone Give Gabby Sidibe A Comedic Role, Stat!
After Precious: Does Hollywood Have A Place For Gabby Sidibe?
Gabby Sidibe On Her ‘N Sync Obsession: “I Know, I Know, I’m Totally Geeky!”
Gabby Sidibe Is Hilarious

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