HIV/AIDS in Precious
In Precious, Lee Daniels has HIV/AIDS plays a minimal but significant role. This sets the film apart from others that deal with the subject of AIDS, by allowing its protagonist to be identified as more than just an AIDS patient. Also, by showing that the virus devastated low-income African-American communities, Lee Daniels provides insight into the AIDS epidemic by reminding audiences that AIDS was never just a gay disease, a misconception that continues to have harmful consequences to this day.
The conversation between Precious and her mother reveals how ignorance was a major factor in the transmission of HIV. When Precious asks her mother if she has HIV, her mother tells her she knows she doesn’t, explaining that she never had anal sex. This interaction acknowledges the stereotype that implicated gay men as the primary victims and carriers of the virus, without making this so obnoxiously clear, as many HIV/AIDS films do. Since Precious then goes on to tell her mother to see a doctor after hearing this, the film introduces the misconception while clarifying that a heterosexual who doesn’t have anal sex can still become infected, and should therefore know their status.
Thematically speaking, Precious is on a journey away from ignorance. While she becomes more literate throughout the film, Precious becomes more educated about HIV. Although her father dies of AIDS and her mother chooses to remain ignorant about her HIV status, Precious actively takes steps to educate herself. This starts with getting tested for the virus and making the appropriate decisions after finding out she’s positive.
Once she knows this, Precious stops breastfeeding her son to protect him from the virus. The scene where this is revealed takes place during Precious’s literacy class, emphasizing the importance of education as an escape from poverty and in cases such as this, HIV transmission. But when considering that the film takes place in the 1980s, it goes without saying that Precious is almost guaranteed to die from this disease. Despite this, the film ends on a rather hopeful note, partly because Precious has escaped from abuse. But also because Precious is free to raise children who aren’t ignorant, even though it’s likely too late for Precious to save herself.
These scenes comprise a small part of a film that focuses primarily on abuse, rather than HIV. And that’s one of several ways Precious succeeds. All too often HIV/AIDS-related films are sanctimonious in their approach, seeming very obvious that their purpose is to educate the audience about AIDS. But including Precious’s HIV diagnosis as a subplot instead of as a focal point makes Precious more than just a thinly veiled public service announcement. Through this film, Lee Daniels can educate audiences about the misconceptions of HIV transmission, and tell the story of a demographic often ignored in AIDS discourse, without ever hinting that this is his intent.
And that’s something few directors and authors can ever dream of accomplishing.