I feel like art is bad art if it portrays horrific events in a way that dulls the audience's reactions. I felt this way about the book Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind by Chavisa Woods, which contains several stories in which underdeveloped female characters are violently abused and murdered. According to comments I've read of hers, almost every event described in the book happened to two women who Chavisa Woods knows. However, because of the way some of the stories are written, the abuse stops seeming real because the characters don't feel real; they seem to exist only as the objects of abuse. I'm not trying to write a review of Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind--for the record, it has some stories I really like--but I'm just saying that I don't think it matters if the events of a piece of art are literally true, I think it's still legit to say that they come off as over-the-top or dulling.
Anyway, I sort of expected to have this reaction to Precious--i.e. I thought it would be so horrifying that I wouldn't be able to actually engage with it. I do feel like Precious's mom is so one-dimensionally evil that it's hard to relate to what's going on, but it turned out that the movie wasn't just a one-way trip to The Worst Life Ever, so that ended up being a smaller aspect of the story than I thought it would be. I don't feel qualified to comment on whether the movie is racist and/or damaging, except to say that Precious was a likable and interesting character and not just a one-dimensional victim, which is cool.
I might as well talk about what I actually feel qualified to talk about: the portrayal of Precious's young daughter with Down Syndrome. I was sort of biased because I had read Dave Hingsburger's post where he criticized the movie because the child was called "Mongo" and never given another name. It's not like I think the creators of the movie are saying that's a good thing to do, so I feel a bit like I can't criticize the movie for that.
However, when I really thought about it, I realized that it's incredibly unrealistic for a teenage girl to have a baby with Down Syndrome because most people who have babies with Down Syndrome are middle-aged. I said this to my friend, and she said that it's not unrealistic at all because the baby was a product of incest. But then when we actually looked this up, we found this article saying that there is no correlation between incest and Down Syndrome. So now I feel like they only made the baby have Down Syndrome because it's supposed to be just another shocking horrible thing about Precious's life. And that's really fucked up.
When Precious has her second baby, her love and devotion for him changes her life. She is capable of this love and devotion partly because her life circumstances have already begun to change, because her teacher and classmates care about her. It makes logical sense that when she had her first baby, she didn't react in the same way. But it still bothers me that they created a narrative where her disabled child is just another problem, while her nondisabled child improves her life.
My friend said that it is bad to have a kid with Down Syndrome because it makes your life harder. I don't think that disabilities being hard is a reason to use a person with a disability as a plot device to show how awful their parent's life is.
It's not a huge aspect of the movie. It's not even a small aspect, I guess. I think they just didn't think about it but that almost upsets me more, that it just made perfect sense to them to use Down Syndrome as a shorthand for awfulness.