Are we all precious?: On the new movie “Precious”

On October 22, NASW participated in an advance screening panel for a powerful new movie called Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire.  This film chronicles the harrowing journey of an obese, abused and illiterate teenager in New York City who seeks a better life for herself and her two children. Lee Daniels directed an all-star cast including comedienne Mo’Nique, rising star Paula Patton, and rocker Lenny Kravitz, and introducing Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe as Precious. In a surprising twist, pop diva Mariah Carey plays a no-nonsense social worker, Mrs. Weiss, who confronts Precious’ mother about incest and other physical and emotional abuse of her daughter. Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry served as executive producers for this gripping story of personal triumph over family violence and social isolation.

During the discussion portion of the screening–coordinated by Liquid Soul Media in partnership with Lionsgate Productions–more than 300 Baltimore and Washington area residents discussed issues that included:

  • Education as the pathway from poverty and despair
  • Value of community networks and service coordination
  • Impact of untreated mental illness on families
  • Risk-taking and courage when reporting abuse
  • Increased and sustained funding for prevention programs
  • Reducing isolation among vulnerable children and teens

Questions for social workers: Do you plan to see the movie?  Do you have any expectations about how the social worker character will be portrayed?  Leave a comment below.

NEW: Join a discussion of this movie and others, current TV shows and news coverage…from a social work perspective.  Visit our new social media driven site, today!


  1. Fiona Bartholomew

    What a turbulent and moving film.

    Circustances where you have to stay with an abuser is very wrong in whatever the situation; The way Precious was made to meet with her mother was sickening, this part of the film annoyed me as I felt the grandmother character should have been kept well away given the fact she knew the abuse was going and basically supported it because of her own low self worth; The lack of knowledge of the aids virus was interesting and may well exist in some communities. This film was really good.

  2. Although we can find fault with anything, and although the social worker, client, and nature of the work itself was overly simplified, nevertheless, I wholeheartedly applaud Hollywood’s willingness and attempt at making a movie about real people with real problems. Precious gives the viewer an education in empathy, as well as a glimpse into what “real life” look like for many of our clients. I’ll never forget that on my first day of social work school, the professor told us to shut our eyes and listen to his voice. He then proceeded to describe traveling down the highway in a nice, new, luxurious automobile. Then the sudden discomfort of having gone over a bump, but regaining comfort a second or two latter. He then asked us, “How do you think the guy you just ran over is feeling?” Social work is about being aware of the “guy who just got run over.” Precious helps laymen (as well as many social workers not in the field) to gain a better awareness of the pain of the “guy who just got run over.” In fact, I was so moved by Precious that I decided to write a blog post about it (which can be viewed at Although I was going out on a limb by blogging about a movie (not something I usually do) after reading about director Lee Daniels’ willingness to engage in dialogue with a social worker regarding her concerns (comment #2 on this blog post) I know that blogging about Precious was a good choice.

  3. I did not feel that the portrayal of the social worker or the WIC worker in Precious was negative. However, their presence in the movie was quite minimal. It would have been interesting to see more of the work they did together in their sessions. From my experience, the movie provided a realistic portrayal of many young women’s lives who are forced to endure abuse daily. In working with this population as a therapist, I have found that many of these clients and their parents are much more resistant to treatment than Precious and mother were in the movie. It is a difficult struggle for therapists to gain the trust of clients and build rapport, when they are also mandated reporters. This dual role is conflictual and makes working with this population very delicate. I couldn’t help but think throughout the course of the movie that if Precious was sharing the true nature of the abuse from her parents with the social worker, Precious would have been quickly removed from the home (especially in the case of the sexual abuse) or the family would have at least had more resources (ie therapy, parenting training, etc). In severe cases, like Precious that seems to be the best thing for the children, however, with other abusive families removal of the children can sometimes create even more trauma. Furthermore, despite the severe abuse that Precious and many other children endure, many times they do not want to be removed from the home. State Social Workers have the most bittersweet role in these families lives. Many clients in this population conceptualize therapists and social workers more as narcs than as people who genuinely want to assist them. When you are able to forge a connection with these clients and their families, it makes all of the stress of our jobs worthwhile. Those moments are truly precious.

  4. I’ve seen the movie and I am reading the book. I definitely think that ALL social workers, teachers, and anyone working with children in any capacity should see this movie. For those of us who have been in social work for numerous years, it is a great refresher of the issues regarding the populations we serve. This movie was brought up in one of my MSW classes and I’m stunned by the responses of those who are entering this field making comments such as, “The movie was not realistic.” Boy are they in for an eye opener. I think for those critical of the movie are getting caught up in the language, the appearances of the actresses, and that is not what I saw as important.
    I was glad that the issue of the mother’s molestation was briefly mentioned in the movie. The book is more graphic. This is an issue that is often not discussed. If we think on the case recently of the Sunday school teacher who molested and killed the little girl, no one is discussing. About three months ago a woman who had given up her son ten years ago found him and molested him, the school teachers who are violating vulnerable adolescents, most of these stories fade in the back ground because people don’t want to think of women as predators. Currently there are laws being discussed on how to deal with sex offenders. I think these are the issues that social workers can play a big part in lobbying for policies that are going to bring the most cost effective results that will protect children.

  5. Dear Cyna Black,
    I am so sorry that the movie related so much to your real life. I am so sorry that you are feeling this pain. I encourage you to see support. A counselor, therapist or licenced clinical social worker can give you the support you need as you work through this and through everything that you’ve lived through. You didn’t deserve to be abused and you don’t deserve to suffer in silence- please seek professional support.
    I hope that you find peace

  6. i just came from seeing the movie precious and i’m still crying, it was the last words that the mother spoke, her violence towards everyone, her…. that really made me cry she was my mother precious was me, my sisters, my brothers….and to see bits and pieces of you past, pushed in your face after decades of not dealing with it was hard very hard….it wasn’t an exact replica but the parts that matched matched well……………so in tears i write and in my mind it he repeating question is what do i do now………..were do i go……….how do i deal with this because even though it was a movie my tears my pain that abuse was is very very real

  7. I have not seen the film, but I have viewed and read several interviews with the actors and Lee. Lee mentioned in an interview with the New York Times that he wanted the appearance of Mariah Carey to not be distracting. If she was immediately recognizable, he felt it would distract from the story and he wanted it to transport the viewer. If Mariah had been her pretty, “Glitter” self, her portrayl would have been laughable and it would have been harder to believe. I don’t see it as a commentary on the profession, but an effort by the director to control the scenery and setting. He made her arrive on set by taxi, sans makeup and entourage. No one saw that but it reinforced the character. All film reviews do say that Precious makes remarkable changes and steps to place her in an alternative school turn her life around. Conversations with the social worker are said to be the pivotal moment in the film when change truly begins. I think that is a powerful comment on the intervention and advocacy roles of social workers in our society. Without the outside influence of Mrs. Weiss, Precious may have been lost to stagnation of action and patterns of abuse. I think Lee’s point was to not let physical appearance interfere in the message of the movie, but our poor media can’t help but deride Carey’s bravery for wearing “dowdy” clothes and facial hair. A film’s visual substance is part of design. Directors and film crews approach their job the way an artist does. I wish the commentary centered on the messages of the film and not the wardrobes.

  8. Hello All : )

    I have not seen the movie but I plan to be one of the first in line when it hits the big screen. Based on the trailers, the social worker is presented in the stereotypical manner of looking homely, stone faced, and unapproachable. Im a social worker and I am none of the above. I feel Mr. Daniels should have made the character just as realistic in appearence as he did with dialect. I also feel that if he took a stretch and avoided common, tv land stereotypes for so many of the other characters, he should have done the same for a character that represents us. Despite my minor disagreement with the potrayal of the social worker, it is just that…minor. I will still be in the movies in anticipation of what I think will be a classic ground breaker.

  9. Hello readers,
    I am looking forward to the movie because finally on film there is a movie that is positive because it will take us through the journey of this troubled young lady as she is going through sessions with her social worker. The interventions of the social worker must work wonderfully, because I am told that this young woman has a trememdous amount of growth. It does not make any difference how dowdy, beautiful, handsome or ugly a social worker is, it only makes a differnce of how the social worker has used interventions to make a positive differnce in the lives of people. I am currently completing my MSW in May 0f 2010 at the awesome Dominican University School of Social Work in River Forest , Illinois. We are having a series of speakers each month about African Refugees, and what we as social workers can do to help. Stedman Graham, (Oprahs Partner) will be on campus in March of 2010 to discuss the crisis with young adults and what is needed to make the family and young adult productive. You are welcome to attend. We are located in a west suburb of Chicago. Come check us out.
    John M. Netherly

  10. I saw the coming attractions, got the book from library, and read it in one sitting. The next day the article about the making of Precious was on the front page of NY Times Magazine, which I also read. While I wish the portrayal of the social worker was more positive, I believe that some social workers forget that their ethical responsibility is to the client, not the agency. We are often put in the middle of our clients and agencies. As I have only read the book and not seen the movie yet (it’s not out in Chicago yet), I can’t speak to the portrayal of the social worker in the movie.

  11. The trailer for this movie was certainly impressive. I particularly was moved by the realism of the very challenging circumstances of this young woman’s life. Looking forward to seeking the film.

  12. I have yet to see the entire movie, but have viewed several trailers and interviews of cast members. Based upon my concern regarding the portrayal of the social worker in the movie, I contacted the director, Lee Daniels, directly to express my concerns. He, in turn, graciously contacted me and we enjoyed a pleasant discussion with plans for a follow-up discussion. I plan to view the movie upon its opening.

  13. In reviews they keep reviewing to the Mariah Carey’s character as a “typical dowdy social worker”. WT_?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.