Free Urban Poverty In Precious And Midnight Cowboy Movie Review Example
The struggles and trials of those living in poverty have long been a popular subject in literature and media, particularly film; cinema has a unique ability to showcase the ways in which poverty is represented and defined, the relationship between poverty and the city, and the way in which poverty is perpetuated through materialism and over-consumption. The films Midnight Cowboy, directed by John Schlesinger, and Precious, directed by Lee Daniels, explore these issues from different angles – the former through a pair of young white men navigating the city and its gay subculture, the latter through the abject poverty of minorities in the inner city and the welfare state. Through these depictions, poverty is shown to be systemic and self-perpetuating, those living within it having to face unspeakable odds to even hope to transcend their humble beginnings.
Poverty can take many forms, depending on socioeconomic and racial cultures, and are depicted differently in Precious and Midnight Cowboy. Both Joe and Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy are abjectly homeless, huddled in a cold, heatless building that is condemned, until they are forced to walk the streets hoping for shelter. Joe, in particular, is having his dream shattered by the immediacy of poverty – the idea that the strong, handsome white man does not necessarily make it in the big city without debasing himself, and even then Joe almost always fails to become a gigolo. Precious, meanwhile, is living the stereotypical African-American welfare nightmare – illiterate, overweight, with an overbearing mother who abuses the welfare system and a child in her teenage years due to sexual molestation. Precious’ mother (played by Mo’Nique) fits squarely into the ‘welfare queen’ stereotype of wanting to stay in poverty for the free federal money. In this way, their poverty is a self-perpetuating system that makes it easier to take unemployment than it is to work their way out of it and get into their own living.
Poor people find themselves uniquely unable to overcome their dire situations, mostly because of the necessities and landscapes of urban life. People like Joe, Rizzo and Precious live on the other side of privilege, unable to make ends meet because they do not fit the requirements to fit into the upper class. Joe and Rizzo are part of the 1960s counterculture, not ‘clean-cut’ enough to fully adapt to the squareness of developed upper-crust life. As Joe navigates the big city, he is surrounded by images of wealth and prosperity, the promises of getting rich in the city. Meanwhile, Precious’ family problems and her race combine to make her a target of systemic discrimination and poverty. Her struggles in school, with her family, and with social workers paint a picture of inner-city life in which entire black populations are resigned to their lot in life, seeing the system as a way to keep them down instead of a means to pull them out of poverty. Precious’ primary victory is in investing herself and working hard in Blu Rain’s classroom in order to become literate and improve her lot in life.
Another tool used to keep poor people in the gutter is over-consumption and indulgence in vice and comforts. In Midnight Cowboy, this is sex – sex for the poor is an industry, a way to try to play their wares and make money as a prostitute. The poor like Joe and Rizzo have little choice but to become prostitutes, Joe having to face some hard truths about his possible homosexuality in the process. The overindulgence in sex is also Joe and Rizzo’s downfall, as they cannot make ends meet as hustlers because of the overabundance of men and women just like them in the city. Meanwhile, Precious is tempted by fast food, which is calorie-rich, fattening, and fits firmly into stereotypes of African-Americans loving fried chicken. The scene where she steals the bucket of chicken shows both her desperation brought on by poverty and her conflict about how to behave as a black woman. On one hand, some part of her does not want to betray the stereotype of the fried-chicken-eating, thieving inner-city black kid, but on the other hand she is incredibly hungry and has no way to pay for her food. The eventual choice to steal it is something borne of necessity, but it does not make Precious feel any better.
All in all, Precious and Midnight Cowboy both present fairly dim, negative views of poverty and the systems that perpetuate them. Those suffering from poverty are given little chance to get out of their situation, whether through lack of economic opportunities, deliberate sabotaging by other poors hoping to avoid humiliation, or a naivete that does not appropriately arm them for how bad things will be. While Precious manages to find a measure of hope – cutting ties with her abusive mother, having ownership of her children, and with plans to continue her education – Joe Buck is beset with despair by the end by the death of his friend Rizzo, and the uncertain possibility of finding work in Miami. These contrasting narratives of poverty offer different interpretations of the chances people have of escaping it and its dangers.
Daniels, Lee. Precious. Perf. Gabourey Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mo’Nique. 2009.
Schlesinger, John. Midnight Cowboy. Perf. Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman. 1969.