Excitement surrounding the film Precious continues to grow as the gripping tale of a young woman’s struggle to overcome her past opens in theaters this weekend. The film’s main character is Claireece “Precious” Jones, an abused teen mother who is dark-skinned, overweight and illiterate.

Fears that the movie would be viewed as exploitative, or suggest that all black women are like Precious nearly prevented the film from seeing the big screen. In a recent interview on CBS’s Sunday Morning Sapphire, who wrote the book, “Push,” on which the film is based, said that she feared the movie would “box in” the character, or depict her as in the same vein as the “obese maids” routinely featured in old movies she watched while growing up.

Sapphire recalled the shame she felt when watching such films while sitting in the darkened theater of the Army base where her father was stationed. “I didn’t want them to be exploited,” she said about black women who will see the film. “I want them to feel the pain of our collective experience.”

While it remains to be seen how audiences will react to the film, several black women of various skin tones, weight, backgrounds and ages say they are anxious to see Precious for reasons that have everything and nothing to do with the character’s appearance.

WATCH THE FILMMAKERS DISCUSS THE MAKING OF ‘PRECIOUS’
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Dr. Joy Lawson Davis, a diversity educator at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, considers Push a powerful story that addresses many secrets that the African-American community continues to deal with such as sexual abuse, illiteracy, skin tones and obesity. “I am brown-skinned, but have within my family people whose skin runs the range from fair skinned to very dark. That is who we are in America,” she says. “I am proud to see a star in a film who is dark, and whose size represents many within our culture and in African culture. Size is a major issue because of health, but also because of our desire to look more American, whatever that is.’”

“This movies stands to raise some issues that need lifting out of the dark,” Davis continues. “I say more power to the filmmakers, actors, and to Sapphire for having the courage to put this in writing.”

Not everyone agrees with Dr Davis, however. Loren Pritchett, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., says she became interested in seeing Precious after viewing the trailer and hearing about the acclaim it received at the Sundance Film Festival. Precious is the only film to ever win the Audience Award at both the Sundance and Toronto International Film Festivals.

“While I am sure the movie will be an eye opening experience for all, I am afraid that the film will reinforce the age-old stereotype of dark women either being overweight like Precious or loud and violent like her mother,” says Pritchett. “Movies like this are double-edged swords in the black community. On one hand it serves as an informative vehicle for discussion, but at the same time casts a label across the black community as a whole, leaving audience members of the opposite race throwing us all into one big troubled category.”

Pritchett, who describes herself as “a heavyset, dark-skinned girl,” said she knows all too well how it feels to be prejudged and labeled as “the loud one with an attitude.” She adds that she has learned to find beauty in herself and to be comfortable and confident in her own skin.

Bernadine Jordan Howard of Accokeek, Md., said she was not upset by the book’s focus on various characters’ physical appearance, and doubts that it will have an impact on her when viewing the film. What does concern her is the mother’s willingness to exploit her child simply to have a man in her life.

Dr. Rashida Gray, an assistant professor of psychiatry for the VCU Health System conducts inpatient and outpatient services and specializes in women’s mental health. Gray believes that Precious will address many issues in the African-American community, particularly sexual trauma and the importance of protecting young girls. ”[The focus on] early trauma has resounded with me because it reflects the story of so many of my patients,” said Gray.

In terms of whether or not Precious’ character will reinforce stereotypes about body image, she says that everyone comes in different sizes and shapes. “I don’t see how that is a stereotype,” she says. “It’s part of a rainbow.”