"Daniels’ own odyssey has been almost as remarkable as that of his lead character...
For his second directorial effort, he chose the novel Push by Sapphire. When he read the novel, he says, “It brought back a feeling I had when I was 11 years old and living in the projects in Philly. I answered the door one day, and a neighbor of ours, a light-skinned black girl who was about 5 years old, was standing there naked and bleeding. She’d been beaten with an electrical cord. I looked in my mom’s eyes, and it was the first time I ever saw fear in her eyes. When I read Sapphire’s book, those memories came back, and I felt I have to deal with this.”
As he began working on Precious, even more painful memories flooded in. As the oldest of five children, Daniels says he experienced the brunt of his father’s anger and frustration. “I was beaten quite a bit for no reason,” he says. (His father, a police officer, was killed on duty when Daniels was 13.)
“One of my earliest memories is of being put in a trash can,” he says in a quiet voice. “I was 5 years old. My dad was playing cards with some of his friends. I put on my mother’s red high heel shoes because they looked pretty to me. He saw me and he got furious. He said I was gay and would never amount to anything, and he threw me in a trash can. And I remember the only way I could deal with it was to escape to a fantasy world. That’s what gave me the idea for the fantasy scenes in the movie, which were not in the book.”
When Precious is raped by her father or beaten by her mother, she dreams of herself as a superstar in a perfect, antiseptic universe. Daniels pulls off a neat balancing act: He captures the brutal reality of his heroine’s home life, but he knows when to pull back to allow the audience some respite.
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