Spoiling “Precious”

Courtland Milloy is a Washington Post Metro columnist, which means that his job is to decry racial outrages even where there are none. This time around, he has been offended by “Precious,” the nearly universally acclaimed movie about an abused black teenager, and attacks it with gusto. [Typically I would link to the piece here. I’m not, and you will soon find out why.] Even though both Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry were involved with project, Milloy found the movie racist. “Maybe there is something to the notion that when human pathology is given a black face, white people don’t have to feel so bad about their own,” Milloy writes. “Sexual abuse is certainly an equal-opportunity crime, with black and white women similarly affected. But only exaggerated black depravity seems to resonate so forcefully in the imagination.”

To regular Milloy readers, this is typical stuff. I haven’t seen “Precious,” though I was intending too, so I cannot fairly argue with Milloy’s opinion. He really disliked the movie, and disliked the ending particularly. So he described the ending in detail.

Now, current media etiquette dictates that if a writer or reviewer is going to give away plot twists, big scares, hilarious jokes or surprise endings, he or she prefaces it with “Spoiler Alert!” This is just good manners, showing consideration and respect for your audience. Let them enjoy the movie the way it was intended to be seen. Malloy didn’t have the courtesy to do that. Anyone who read his column found out how “Precious” ends.

This is, not to mince words, a rotten thing to do—to movie fans, to the studio, to the actors in the movie.  At best it is unfair and inconsiderate, but I think there is a significant likelihood that Milloy wanted to spoil the movie for as many people as possible. He didn’t like its message, didn’t like its reflection on African-American families, and believed that it was prurient and depressing.  He could discourage people from seeing the movie by his negative comments, but he could really discourage them by telling too much. So he spoiled it.

That is unprofessional, irresponsible movie reviewing, and also arrogant. He is so certain that his opinion of the film, despite being at odds with most other critics, is so inarguably correct that he can justify unilaterally making it impossible for his readers to see the film the way he did: with an open mind, not knowing what was going to happen, or how the story would end.

I’m going to see the movie anyway, despite Milloy’s efforts to ruin it for me. I’m not giving a link to his column, however; instead,  here is a short film about spoilers, from the clever folks at Rooster Teeth.

We ethicists have a sense of humor. Sometimes.

2 thoughts on “Spoiling “Precious”

  1. You’re an “ethicists”?!?! I guess that may be the reason you had nothing critical to say about Milloy’s actuall criticisms about “Precious”. I’m not a columnist or a movie critic. However, I’m 25, black and female. I work with black communities and discuss many of the issues discussed in the movie with students or young people that have been kicked/pushed out of school. I have the contextual information required to understand and appreciate Milloy’s feedback. Many of the young, black women I know hated the movie too. Millory’s right! Why do you all love to see us like this? When do you glorify movies with black actors who are successful and in control of their futures? No, instead its movies like Dangerous Minds, Precious, or what was the newer one with Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side.” We’re not your slaves anymore. We don’t need you to fix us or feel sorry for us. I know this is hard for you to understand and I’m sure you’re feeling very defensive right now. But please ask yourself why? And try harder to discredit a review about something you haven’t even watched. But please also seriously consider how irresponsible the movie was to the community, I’m assuming, it was supposed to inspire and inform. In the end, we all left asking ourselves, “what were they hoping to accomplish?” “what’s the point?”

    I won’t even waste the time needed to break down the remaining 3/4 of YOUR rant, asserting that Milloy actually wanted to spoil the ending for everyone. The only piece in your article with substance are the two quotes you use you open with. Ironically enough, their Milloy’s.

    • You either didn’t read my post, didn’t comprehend it, or just wanted to use the post to make an unrelated point, which I think is more than a little bit deceitful. My criticism has absolutely nothing to do with whether Milloy’s view of the movie was “right” or not. I personally think Milloy is a professional race-baiter, as you appear to be, but sometimes he is correct and sometimes he is blatantly wrong and paranoid. None of this matters to my post about his review, except by way of reference for the lucky readers who haven’t had to read his columns and don’t know who he is. Spoiling the ending of a movie for those who haven’t seen it is an inconsiderate and unfair thing to do– unfair to the movie and its artists, unfair to the open-minded audience member who wants to see the film the way it was made to be seen no matter who the writer is, or what film he is reviewing. Milloy, either negligently or intentionally, spoiled “Precious” by revealing the ending, and robbed readers of his column from having the opportunity he presumably had, which was to see the movie without knowing how it would end. That’s wrong. That’s obviously wrong.
      Now, if you really think what he did in this regard to his own readers can be justified, then I’m listening: I’d love to hear a legitimate argument. You don’t offer any. You say others hated the film—irrelevant to my post. You say “Milloy’s right”—COMPLETELY irrelevant to my post: I didn’t say whether he was “right” about the film; I can’t say that, because I haven’t seen it; thanks to him spoiling the ending, I probably won’t until it comes out on the cable channels. Again—I’m hoping you will get this—It doesn’t matter whether or not he’s “right” about the film itself: he was still wrong to spoil the ending.

      You say “We’re not your slaves anymore. We don’t need you to fix us or feel sorry for us. I know this is hard for you to understand and I’m sure you’re feeling very defensive right now. But please ask yourself why?”—what does that have to do with the issue of whether a reviewer should reveal the ending of a movie? That issue—the topic of the post– has zero to do with the content of the film: I would write the same thing if Mr. Milloy was panning (or praising!) “The Lion King,” “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “Mister Roberts.”

      Meanwhile, you make racist assumptions about me and my views, despite the fact that not one comment in my post would lead to any such conclusions by a fair or rational reader. Laughably, you say you won’t waste the time “to break down the remaining 3/4 of rant, asserting that Milloy actually wanted to spoil the ending for everyone,” when that assertion was 100% of my “rant.” You passionate, insulting comment had no relevance to what I wrote.

      I welcome criticism, and I don’t mind sharp criticism. I do mind completely emotional and agenda-driven personal attacks that have nothing whatsoever to do with any post here, and that aim to use me as a generic target of free-floating rage without any justification other than the fact that I dared to call the conduct of a columnist what it was: unethical.

      Like your comment. And though I am indeed an ethicist, I wouldn’t have to be one to figure out that.

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