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Katie Couric Interviews Sapphire

In our last post before the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, Katie Couric interviews Sapphire who explains the impetus for writing PUSH. Irrespective of how I feel about the HORRIBLE marketing for the movie "Precious," this is a fascinating interview between Katie Couric and Sapphire. For once, a publicist sends me something that lives up to the hype. Sapphire answers many of my questions.

Watch CBS News Videos Online
From the publicist:

Sapphire speaks about how her novel "Push" became the inspiration for the new movie "Precious," and her skepticism when she was first approached by the director, Lee Daniels.
Sapphire speaks about casting Gabourey Sidibe as the lead actress in the new movie "Precious," which was based on her novel "Push," and what she was looking for during the interview process.
Author Sapphire speaks to Katie Couric about what she hopes people will learn from the main character of the movie "Precious," and why she thinks the film will have universal appeal.

Their discussion is wide ranging and you will learn more than Lee Daniels, Tyler Perry, or Oprah will want to focus on. This made me a bit more likely to see the film, but the needle is currently on "wait to DVD." Precious is a composite character based on Sapphire's experience as a teacher and advocate.

Reader Comments (40)

what issues do you have with the marketing? I notice the movie is getting a lot of press from white liberal publications and nothing much in black press. They say Monique is not promoting the movie so maybe thats why she hasn't been on the cover of Essence for the 3400th time

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterblkchik

The movie is being marketed with the phrase "I am Precious" and Perry and Oprah's interviews leave the impression that this is a story that is universal to Black women. Once again leaving the false impression that it is out destiny and natural state to be horrifically abused.

Sapphire in this interviews basically says the opposite. She says that yes, these horrors do exist and she wrote the book for the purpose of bringing them to light. She speaks about universal THEMES but not universal EXISTENCES. Which is what Oprah and Perry do.

I finally figured out that Tyler and Oprah actually DO think that abuse and exploitation are Black women's natural state of being, likely because of their personal histories.

I am NOT Precious. If I was, I couldn't be horrified by the story. If I WAS Precious, I would likely think that my existence was the rule for everybody. Why would I believe anything different?

Likewise, Sapphire isn't responsible for Lee Daniels blatant colorism in this film. But of course that will be glossed over and swept under the rug.

So I make a distinction between Sapphire and Daniels. The book and the moive are two different things.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergem2001

Gina this was so huge:

"I finally figured out that Tyler and Oprah actually DO think that abuse and exploitation are Black women’s natural state of being, likely because of their personal histories. "

I think artists, writers, and other creative folks create based on their personal histories and what has or has not happened in their lives.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnanda Leeke

Good points; in the book vs movie discussion, the book is usually better than the movie, imo.

I have read the book and I look forward to the movie; I also look forward to all the heated and not so heated discussions about whether or not such abuse happens among our people. I understand our skeetish-ness about such a topic; so much in the media is so very negative about us as a people, but if we don't want to air any dirty laundry, then perhaps we should be doing some intense house cleaning, huh? But absolutely, we must make it clear that the abuse of women and/or children, while common, is not natural, is not normal, must not be tolerated, must not be commercialized, must not be celebrated or encouraged (i.e., Bishop Thomas "Hit Man" Weeks, Bebe Winans, Hezekiah Walker, Chris "Knock Her Down" Brown, Bill Withers, Miles Davis, et.al., from back in the day, certain athletes, other celebrities and politicians, a motley crew of other preachers, etc.); folks need to be held accoutable. But I must admit, I have a particular, personal distain for those women who make excuses for such behavior. :(

Now that colorism thang, yep, that got me to thinking . . . what with "Good Hair" and now this movie . . . this is going to be a very interesting ride, for sure. :) :)

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRevMamaAfrika

And let's not forget Tyler Perry's upcoming film adaptation of Ntozake Shange's "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enough," which will be in theatres next year. No doubt the success (thus far) of "Precious" helped make that an imminent reality.

I saw "Precious" and thought it was ok, maybe even underwhelming, and not worthy of all the hype it's been receiving, if we're talking about it strictly on its merits as a work of film art. However, as Sapphire notes, it will help bring some of the horrors represented in the film, to light. The question is to who's "light"?

I think we can expect to see more movies like these from Hollywood, given their narrow-minded definition of what "black cinema" is. We can only have one pervading theme at a time.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShadow And Act

gem@ "I finally figured out that Tyler and Oprah actually DO think that abuse and exploitation are Black women’s natural state of being, likely because of their personal histories."
Thank you, thank you, thank you. You finally hit the nail on the head. That is true for so many of our black people and maybe a lot of folks in general who overcome pain and then try an advocate against what happened to them. They mean well but often the believe that what happened to them is universal. Maybe that is how they make sense of it all or keep from being angry at a god they may think let it happen.
As a race in this country so many of us apparently live a somewhat disfunctional life for many reasons from historical racism, to internalized self-hatred to plain ol being no good on your own. But we then let that become the universal theme for us. This harkens back to a much earlier post following the Chicago honor student slaughter when someone yelled out "this isn't normal." We need to say that more often rather than allowing ourselves to be defined by the lowest common denomenator of the black experience.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBee

Well Lee Daniels is wierd. He has admitted in interviews that he has color issues and use to discriminate against fat people before he made this movie. Here is his quote:

'Precious’ is so not P.C. What I learned from doing the film is that even though I am black, I’m prejudiced. I’m prejudiced against people who are darker than me. When I was young, I went to a church where the lighter-skinned you were, the closer you sat to the altar. Anybody that’s heavy like Precious — I thought they were dirty and not very smart. Making this movie changed my heart. I’ll never look at a fat girl walking down the street the same way again.”

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterblkchik

yes, but, for those who have survived some type of abuse, to see it in the media AND to see/hear people criticize such abuse as wrong, criminal, unfair, foul, etc., allows them to know they are not as isolated as they may have thought AND there are people who care about such issues. While I don't know Lee Daniels' intentions other than what he has said in interviews, perhaps this movie and others will encourage us all to take a long hard look at all of our "issues" ie., hair-ism, colorism, ageism, thin vs big vs fat, etc. But yes I definitely agree, we should pay more attention to the author Sapphire than to Tyler, Oprah, etc. :)

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRevMamaAfrika

I haven't read the book nor do I intend to see the movie. I was in social service for 15 years there can't be anything there that I haven't already seen.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRoslyn Holcomb

I just watched the video/interview of Sapphire. All I can say is, "WOW!" :)

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRevMamaAfrika

I really hope that some dysfunctional parents see this movie and are able to take a good look at themselves. People attribute a lot of issues we have to racism, class but they never discuss mental illness, lack of empathy, depression etc. I wish that Sapphire would have given more backgroud to the mother of Precious in the book. Sapphire only worked with the youth and she doesn't come from that world so maybe she did not have enough information.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterblkchik

@roslyn that's kind of my sentiments.

@revma don't fall for the oke doke. lee daniels don't bit mo care about abused Black women, if anything, I think he MIGHT quite enjoy watching Black women being beaten down. He appears to gravitate towards extreme depictions of abuse much like Tyler and Oprah. Its like a fetish to them.

Then he hides behind trying to pass off "art" as some type of community service with wider implications for ALL OF BLACK AMERICA. Almost every Black movie or show that isn't a comedy has this same marketing pitch. They are counting on people being afraid to appear to be discounting abuse victims to shut up critics while intentionally fueling the controversy for the purpose of selling tickets. Likewise White folks won't know any better and will hand over some Oscar nominations because of our passing off dysfunction as Black culture.

Got three words for you "Hustle and Flow" But you didn't see nobody handing out awards for "The Great Debaters."

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergem2001

Gina, thanks for bringing up the colorism aspect of the casting. In the book, Precious's teacher is a darker-skinned black woman with dreads. So why is she so light in the film. And why are the other "saviors" in the film also so light? I thought I was the only person who noticed that.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTamara

Yes, Sis. Gina, I feel ya, but again, I don't know whether or not he cares about our sisters. I'm a survivor of domestic terrorism(violence) and I also work in the field. Less because of my own personal experience and more because a close friend went through it and we her friends helped her through it 11 years ago, which is when I became involved.

I am very troubled by the colorism, which Lee Daniels has mentioned; on that we'll see. Now on the fact that Holly-weird tends to give its awards when we play such dysfunctional characters, "Monster's Ball", "Training Day", etc., what are they really trying to say about us? Makes me wanna go hummm-mm-mm . . . :(

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRevMamaAfrika

Thank you for this post, Gina.

These kind of films/ TV shows/ theater are a form of "abuse pornography." The exclusive focus on black women is sinister. If there were other movies / TV shows predominately showcasing us as lovely, respectable, desirable women, I'd have no problem with it. But this kind of stuff stands alone all too often.

Producers (Oprah, TP and Daniels) of this "entertainment" seem to hate black women who haven't grown up abused. Are they are angry at us for not rescuing them as children?

I'm surprised by anyone who believes that these abuse porn flicks portray the quintessential black experience. I don't have to be dysfunctional just to qualify as "black."

Plus, how much more do we all need to learn about this subject? Read any newspaper online: almost daily there is an unfortunate child abuse* story. This is not a new phenomenon. In happens in every race, not just black people.

*By the way, A. Samuels of Newsweek is after Z. again.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGoldenah

First of all thank you very much for posting this video, otherwise I may have missed it altogether. I read the book with my book club and we're planning to go as a group to see this movie.

There were so many poignant moments in this video but a few kind of stood out for me that I'd like to mention.

First, it's so frustrating when a story that was (at least to me) written specifically to depict the universality of the human experience first have to get over the hurdle, if you will, of being a "black film" because the majority of the cast is black. Not saying that Precious' being black does not have any significance in the story, but if the same movie was portrayed with an all white cast would it be necessary to stress that this is not just a "white" problem? And that this is not representative of ALL white people? Would Sapphire still feel the need to state the disclaimer that "...there are MANY good black fathers..." during the interview. Which made me a bit because she didn't say...that MOST or the MAJORITY of...thus leaving the impression that the good black fathers are the exceptions.

Second, Katie's little statement about how the mother-daughter incest as portrayed in the movie would first hit her as not happening "..in my world.." as opposed to Sapphire's "world", or the as "world" depicted in the book...again you missed the part of the UNIVERSALITY of the story (exactly how many times did Sapphire say that word during the interview...? yet Katie still couldn't get pass the color, Harlem, and the poverty to grasp that concept). And aren't we all living in the same COUNTRY let alone the same WORLD...?

POWERFUL...POWERFUL when Sapphire speaks about the roles for black actresses in the past and then began to speak about how Aby's character is the STAR of this show and this movie is about HER.

Finally, at the end of the interview Katie asks Sapphire: what universal msg would she want an older, white woman like herself to take from this movie...?again HELLO: were you not LISTENING during the past 40 minutes of your own interview??? If so you could have/should have at least BEGUN to answer that question yourself...because if you can't...after this conversation with Sapphire...where she tells you of the women she's met in all walks of life (white, black, older, younger etc..) who tell her that the story of abuse is their story too...then you never will.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJustSaying

I'm going to avoid watching this film, I'm sick of people trying to put pain as the quintessential black experience. Does this type of hurt exist, yes but not everyone grew up like that and it is misleading for Tyler and Oprah to pass this off as "every black person experiences this".

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLa Belle Femme

"Plus, how much more do we all need to learn about this subject? Read any newspaper online: almost daily there is an unfortunate child abuse* story. This is not a new phenomenon. In happens in every race, not just black people."

I very much agree with this statement. HOWEVER, the purpose and the msg of this book was not just to show that it happens, but moreso to showcase the AFFECTS or the OUTCOMES on the victims of such abuse. Just as this happens to people of all races, it's people of all races who come across these broken down victims, not knowing or caring where and why they came from, and dismiss them easily with one single word "IGNORANT"...and never look back. Precious, the lead character in the book was dismissed, ignored and overlooked her entire life...yet it was not her fault that no one ever loved her enough to teach her ANYTHING.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJustSaying

@ Just Saying, your last paragraph, good point.
If any of you have seen the film, "NO!" a docu about rape/sexual assault in the Black community, http://www.notherapedocumentary.org, the film maker Aishah Simmons mentions that in her travels in the U.S. and other parts of the world, women AND men tell her they like her film because rape/sexual assault has happened to them or someone close that they know and thus, to see such an issue in a film and discussed as the crime against humanity that it is, is liberating, empowering, etc., for SOME people.

But I agree with everyone, we should have more films, etc., about the complexity and diversity of the Black experience. :)

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRevMamaAfrika

I'm glad you touched on "Precious", everytime I see promos online I always see pictures of Gabourey Sidibe, but not much info on the movie itself.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLD

Not for nothing, when I watched the movie "The Joy Luck Club", I never though it represented the experiences of EVERY Chinese woman. It would have been idiotic on my part to think that it did.

Just as it would be ignorance on any other individual's part to think that Precious tells the story of EVERY black female...even if Oprah and Tyler tells them so. But that doesn't mean that I, who know better, should avoid this movie which has so much more to say once you get passed that. The fact that I, thank the Lord, has never been a victim of such abuse, and has never counseled someone who has, tells me that I can possibly learn something I didn't already know or see a perspective that I hadn't already considered..which is all the author is asking you to do.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJustSaying

I saw Precious as only one of two people of color among an almost entirely white middle aged audience.

Precious is hard to watch. The audience was horrified in many instances so I can see how that causes concern for many people. I think that is only dangerous because we see so few films on the flip, that show BW in romantic comedies or happy, healthy lives.

I am not sure how I feel about the film...even weeks later. I like the fact Lee Daniels attempted to tell the story in a creative way and did not make Gibby seem like an alien. Though yes I have seen the cinematic effects Daniels used in other films, I think it was still well done.

It really stood out in my mind that all of Precious' supporters and helpers were fair skinned as well, but knowing a bit about Hollywood and the wheels that make it roll. I would imagine Mariah Carey lobbied hard for the role and her Box Office pull out weighed all the superior actresses who may have sought the job.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterknockoutchick

Regarding the role of BM.

I cannot remember the Lenny Kravitz character in the book. Not sure. But clearly producers thought this was needed in the film to add some balance.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterknockoutchick


have yu read the book?

'Cause colorism definitely runs heavy throughout the book...that's not a Lee Daniels creation - Sapphire wrote it as such.

Hustle and Flow deserved the Oscar nods - and yes Triple 6 deserved to win for best song - not liking the content of a film DOES NOT mean it's not a well done movie.

One of the best acting jobs Taraji has ever done was in Hustle and Flow - her role in Benjamin didn't deserve the Oscar nod in my opinion.

Great Debaters wasn't a good movie - touching story - not a well made movie - there is a difference.

I haven't seen Precious - don't intend too - reading the book was enough - from what I've seen of clips it seems there are definitely some note worth performances (Mo'Nique definitely springs to mind), but the quality of the film seems in question.

As far as Tyler and Oprah - I don't get the impression they beleive all black women suffer - but they operate form their experience - there have been plenty middle/upper middle class black folk stories - they do exist.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJJ


I think the Kravitz character has a very small role (read non-existent) in the book that was expanded in the movie.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJJ

I've read the book- and I intend to see the movie too. Yes, colorism is a large part of the book and that's done for a reason; BUT, I don't think that fact warrants Daniels' casting all of the heroes (Kravitz, Patton, Carey etc.) as light skinned or biracial blacks. Furthermore, Mariah Carey is mediocre actress who can sell records but not a film (didn't "All That Glitters" bomb)- there are other actress who could've been casted.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZabeth

Yes I am sure other actresses COULD have been cast....but I am sure like Beyonce her "people" put the squeeze down as they are trying to transition Ms. Carey into acting to keep their bread buttered.

Mz. Carey has been dreaming of being an actress for some time now.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterknockoutchick

"I’m going to avoid watching this film, I’m sick of people trying to put pain as the quintessential black experience. Does this type of hurt exist, yes but not everyone grew up like that..." --La Belle Femme

My feelings exactly. I respect the right of those who have been abused to have their stories told and screened, but when I look around and can find ONLY this type of media image of black women, something else is happening.

This, along with "Good Hair" and all of the Tyler Perry canon of films, is just another chapter in the history of minstrel entertainment that says: "It sucks to be a black woman. They are defined by abuse, loneliness, ugliness, and pain. Glad I'm not one of you!"

I have signed up for National Novel Writing Month and am looking forward to writing and publishing a story that tells the full truth of our experiences.

October 31, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdeborah

I wasn't interested in watching this until I listened to the interview. I am always bothered by attempts to portray the existences of poor black people as unending pathology.

Then, Sapphire said that she had been sexually abused and you know she realizes that just because you live in a middle-class household with both parents you can be victimized.

Sexual abuse is about power. It has nothing to do with class or race. We see Precious everyday. She may not be a dark skin black girl. She could the white woman who works in your office. She could be your manager. You don't really know anyone's life story.

That's why its important that women give witness. Sunshine is the best antiseptic.

October 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

gem2001 wrote:

[They are counting on people being afraid to appear to be discounting abuse victims to shut up critics while intentionally fueling the controversy for the purpose of selling tickets. Likewise White folks won’t know any better and will hand over some Oscar nominations because of our passing off dysfunction as Black culture.

Got three words for you “Hustle and Flow” But you didn’t see nobody handing out awards for “The Great Debaters.”]

It goes much deeper than that.

Note that a lot of the actors and producers handing out Oscars are the SAME people who won't condemn Roman Polanski, a convicted pedophile who was recently arrested. Heck, some signed a petition asking for his release:


Sadly, Whoopi just HAD to leap on this ill-fated bandwagon with her unwise "It wasn't rape-rape" comment on the case:


Then, there is the report of the major increase in violence against women (Black, White, etc.) on popular TV shows:


Given the sexist climate in modern Hollywood, it would be shocking if a misogynistic film like "Flow" didn't win any Oscars.

This is why I'm less and less enamored with Hollywood's output.

October 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFred

I totally agree with the ladies that noticed the so called "saviors" were fair skinned. What the duck is that all about? I like Oprah but, even she should have noticed the colorism in the movie. If Oprah was listening to Tyler then we now have our answer. He has this thing for lighter tone people.

October 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

Considering that the most recent real life breaking news relating to the abuse that Precious/Push speaks of was done by WHITE MEN to their WHITE DAUGHTERS and it made national and in the case from Australia INTERNATIONAL news I don't see the underlying "this is all a black women's problem" thing. I see it as a HUGE issue. I can put up links right now showing the rape of daughters by their fathers from infancy to adulthood in white, latina, black or just about any other race of people. Rape and abuse is not colorblind by ANY means. Though not everyone experiences rape and abuse it does not mean that rape and abuse are negligible or should be hidden and shamed and forever hidden from the eyes and minds of all. Lots of people in India had HUGE issues with the movie Slumdog Millionaire but there was still a huge group who thought it was HIGH time the world had a full view of India and not just what tourists saw from the comfort of their 5 star hotels.

Many people saw the trailer of Precious and thought she was having consensual sex with someone or some people and that is how she ended up pregnant. As if it just wasn't a possibility that she could have been raped. They blamed her for being overweight as if she was just greedy as all hell and her size was all her fault. Not genes, not being forcefed, not that maybe healthy foods were out of her reach (as we know, you can't get a $1 salad anywhere but several fast food chains offer an entire dollar menu). The book post-trailor showed some people their own prejudices against others and revealed just how ignorant assumptions can be.

November 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAzalea

Oh and the colorism, UGH. The teacher being dark with locs was a HUGE part of the book when considering the things Precious thought of people who were dark and people who had locs. From the trailor it seems at least she's still a lesbian but I doubt it.

November 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAzalea

I am so tired of Balck folk Blackening everything! Yes the film is gritty and dark and sad,those are the realities of a lot of lives in the ghetto,black,poor white and hispanic. Truth be told abuse,incest and violence knows no economic,social barriers,BUT it is prevelent in poor folk who are angry,illeriterate and hopeless,in SOME CASES.
My point is this,the movie should serve as a teaching tool and a means to open dialogue in communites were this is hidden and not talked about,period.
The Director and his issues,are not a problem for me,and truly not relevaent,the issue is child abuse and violence,stay focused people,and stop playing the Black card,the hollywood card,the colorist card,the good hair card,and let the movie heal and teach!

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersaraj jones

Wait a minute? You're coming to a blog that was started to speak about images of Black women in popular culture and you want to decree that we can't speak out about a movie that is being MARKETED as some universal Black experience? Move along.

I love people who want to demand that the movie speak, yet declare critics or those expressing concern should shut up. Whatever!

We're not going anywhere. Might I also add that we are one of the FEW blogs that even bothered to publish this interview with Sapphire. Yet you EMPLOYEES keep coming on here whining because we won't duplicate the Movie's press release. Whatever. Be gone already.

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergem2001

MIght I add that I'm so very TIIIIRED of Black people that insist that the systemic degradation and indoctrination of Black women isn't taking place through "art ." Just because you signed up for stupid duty doesn't mean we have to join in the ignorance.

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergem2001

"‘Cause colorism definitely runs heavy throughout the book…that’s not a Lee Daniels creation – Sapphire wrote it as such."

Precious' teacher in the book was a dark skinned lesbian. I don't think Paula Patton fits into that role well. The character played by Mariah Carey was a white woman. Lenny Kravitz's character didn't really even exist in the book. If I recall the nurses in the book were females. Colorism was prevalent in the book "Push", but it wasn't in the manner that Lee Daniels represented. He didn't stick with the book in that regards.

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersiditty

I will wait until the movie comes on cable. Though I didn't grow up abused, I know many people, black and white, who did. I've been in 12 step groups for over 20 years. If white people seem horrified by watching this movie, it might be because it triggers something that happened to them, or something they heard about.

Sometimes the worst dysfunction happens behind those nice, white picket fences.

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEva

I must say I haven't read the book and haven't decided on watching the movie. Like a lot of comments here, I have problems with the assault on black women in the "arts." As an example, I am an avid reader, yet when I go to the bookstore, I can not find books about women like me - married, educated, mother, suburban dweller. Not all of us are dysfunctional. Not all of us are in the hood. And in the end, it is all about $$$$ and like publishers, movie makers only want to do what will sell. Black women have always been portrayed as dysfunctional - tragic mulatto, mammy, whore, or extremely overweight, dark skinned, asexual woman.

Perhaps this movie will bring some things to light and that fact that this type of abuse happens in ALL communities.

I am just tired of the lack of real "art" portraying real black women.

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTaye' Foster Bradshaw

I am so disturbed by black people's undiscriminating taste when it comes to how we are portrayed in film and TV...I'm just going to have another glass of wine...

And black women REALLY get screwed over in Hollywood. I've seen so many aspiring bw actresses say that they are not working because all they are offered are prostitute/ghetto/addict/baby mama roles, and the occasional supporting actress role.

They gotta get their Monster's Ball on in order to get an Oscar.

On the flip side, there are so many black films that portray us better that had to be made on shoestring budgets.

November 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMod 2

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