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Lee Daniels, director of the newly released film “Precious,” made a surprise appearance at one of the opening screenings of the movie in New York City.

The audience at the 7:30 p.m. presentation of “Precious” at the AMC Theater in Lincoln Square had purchased tickets for a standard showing, but just before the movie began, a theater employee revealed that after the film, Daniels would be on hand to discuss the project and answer questions.

“Precious,” based on the novel Push by Sapphire, tells the story of a poor, overweight, dark-skinned Black teenage girl who overcomes abuse, illiteracy, and two incestuous pregnancies in 1980s Harlem. The star-studded cast features Mo’Nique as Precious’s mother, Mariah Carey as a social worker, Paula Patton as a caring teacher, and Hollywood newcomer Gabourey Sidibe in the title role.

The film was well received by the audience, and Daniels was greeted with enthusiastic applause when he arrived. A reporter for the LA Times moderated the conversation on-stage, and the director began by explaining what made him want to take on the project.

Daniels recalled an incident from his early life when a naked little girl showed up on his doorstep one afternoon, covered in blood, pus, and welts from being beaten with an extension cord. After his mother tended to the child, she knew she would have to return her to her home. That moment, he said, was the first time he saw fear in his mother’s eyes, and witnessing the reality of such abuse remained with him.

“I did this [movie] so that I could heal,” said Daniels. “I did this so that we could all heal. It’s not just an African-American story, it’s a universal story.”

Audience questions covered a wide range of topics, from his experience working on the film to his upcoming projects.

Discussing how he assembled the cast, Daniels satisfied some of the curiosity surrounding his selection of Sidibe as the film’s star.

“When I was looking for Precious, I started searching in Harlem at McDonalds, or in a theater behind the counter,” he said. “But I realized that if I used these girls, I would have been exploiting them.”

So Daniels cast Sidibe, an actress who physically fit the bill, but shared none of her character’s harrowing experiences as a poor and abused woman.

One of the final audience questions was the most incisive, asking how the director responded to those who worry “Precious” reinforces negative stereotypes about black women.

“I cannot answer that. I’m a storyteller, a filmmaker—I have to tell my truth,” said Daniels. “If it upsets a certain demographic, so be it.”


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