Precious (full title Precious (Based On The Novel 'Push' By Sapphire)) arrived in the UK following positive reviews and media interest in the States which focussed on its portrayals of black people – some praising its hard hitting stance, others fearing it fell into negative stereotyping. It was rated R there for 'child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language' and came to the BBFC with a 15 request.
The film follows the life of 15 year old Precious, who is obese, pregnant with her father’s child after a long history of sexual and physical abuse, and illiterate. When she is thrown out of school she joins a basic literacy class where she is inspired to learn to read and write and attempts to forge a new life with her child despite several setbacks. It is a naturalistic and sometimes grim account, with flashes of magical realism as Precious escapes her present by fantasising about a life of celebrity and superficial beauty.
The work contained frequent strong language which automatically required a 15. The BBFC Guidelines at 12A state that : ‘The use of strong language (for example, ‘fuck’) must be infrequent’. However, the film’s more challenging issues, in terms of classification, were descriptions and depictions of sexual and physical abuse, including the sexual assault of a child.
At 15 the BBFC Guidelines allow that 'There may be detailed verbal references to sexual violence but any portrayal of sexual violence must be discreet and have a strong contextual justification'.
Central to Precious’ story is her sexual abuse since infancy at the hands of her parents and it includes a flashback to a rape by her father. The flashback is hard-hitting, but the scene is brief and discreet, there is no nudity, eroticisation or endorsement and it discreetly establishes the assault before cutting away to the victim's idealised fantasy life which is her coping strategy.
There is a later flashback to a rape although this is much shorter.
Both of the scenes have a strong contextual and narrative justification as they illustrate what has happened to the lead character earlier in the film and without their presence there would be uncertainty as to the truthfulness of her subsequent abuse claims, motivations and psychological state. They are handled with tact and restraint, showing the horror of her experiences as well as how she deals with her personal trauma. They are certainly credible but are not filmed in a manner that presents the assault as pleasurable, exciting or potentially harmful.
There are also some detailed verbal descriptions of the abuse, the most harrowing in a particularly lengthy scene where Precious’ mother makes a self-justifying confession to an overwhelmed social worker about the rape of Precious as a baby and her role in enabling this. The scene is undoubtedly distressing, but is contextually justified and important to the narrative as it underscores the abusive nature of Precious’ relationship with her mother and her subsequent struggles, feelings and motivation throughout the story.
Other issues include moderate violence (especially in a domestic context where Precious is verbally and physically abused by her mother), discriminatory language including references to Precious’ young daughter with Downs Syndrome and some strong sex references, including Precious and her mother talking graphically about the transmission of HIV.
Examiners were clear that the film’s adult themes were handled in a way that was appropriate for older teens, and that as an ‘intelligent and moving film on a sensitive issue’ it deserved as wide an audience as possible in line with BBFC Guidelines which state works should be allowed to reach the widest audience that is appropriate for their theme and treatment.
Other 15 indicators include the frequent use of strong language. There are also occasional negative verbal hard drug references to 'crack' and 'crackheads' and moderate and mild language. All of these issues were noted in the film’s BBFCinsight, with strong language and sexual abuse references highlighted as defining issues.
Precious was selected for National Schools Film Week in 2010.