What do Tehran and “Precious” have in common?

Yesterday I came back home after class in the afternoon and my roommate was watching “Precious,” the 2009 Lee Daniels film starring Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique. “Precious” or the full title “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” is the story of a young girl in Harlem subjected to terrible tortures by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, lost in the education system, becoming a mother herself and having been all but given up on by everyone. Daniels paints one of the bleakest pictures every captured on film, and moves it along very painstakingly by letting the audience hang on to the slightest sense of hope for Precious. For those who have yet to see the film, I highly recommend it but you should know full and well what you’re getting yourself into, it will likely weigh heavy on your mind for a while.

After my roommate finished watching the film, we struck up a conversation about how powerful the film really was. Throughout the conversation he mentioned some really intriguing things. He mentioned that the movie had a really personal effect on him. He recalled many of his cousins and friends whom he has lost to crystal meth and other drugs, back in Tehran. He equated Tehran to the scene in the film when the social worker comes to Mary’s (Mo’Nique) apartment for a home visit. He said Tehran was a lot like the family who put on a face for the social worker, to make everything seem comfortable and put-together, only to go right back to their destitute ways when the world stopped looking.

My roommate (whose name I am consciously omitting) said that he had a hard time getting through the film because it hit home for him in so many ways. And that really struck me. A film made about Harlem, about the African American experience in modern day United States, about social neglect of a systemic problem, about forgotten individuals ended up evoking empathy from someone from another part of the world. My roommate went on to tell me about rampant drug and sex abuse in Tehran, about the ways in which the social fabric of the city has been falling apart recently. He mentioned stories about police officers watching as people were being beaten on the streets because criminals aren’t worth their time, about drug dealing and drug abuse among high school students and sex workers around the city. For an Islamic Republic with reputedly state control over so many facets of life, some of the stories he mentioned were truly shocking.

It was fascinating to talk to him about the impact of films in his life, because they’ve been such an important part of my life. There were a lot of reasons I loved “Precious” when I first saw it but this certainly adds to its prestige, as far as I’m concerned. A film that can so truly plug into humanity by discussing, in the most honest of ways, some of the worst parts of humanity certainly achieves some of the intended (and unintended) purposes of culture and art and furthers humanity itself.