Activist embraces controversy

When your book is optioned for a movie, and when the film receives critical acclaim and Oscar nods, most authors arguably assume that they’ve reached the mountaintop. So when that sequence happened this year with the release of “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire,” the writer used the exposure as a platform to continue a discussion of the dirty secrets that few discuss.


There are some in the Black community who condemn the film’s brutal depiction of urban reality that revolved around an abused illiterate obese incest survivor teen, and claim that the movie panders to stereotype and rekindles the light-skinned vs. dark-skinned chasm that still simmers among some African-Americans.

Undaunted, Sapphire continued the dialogue at the William Pitt Union at the University of Pittsburgh for a presentation sponsored by the Pitt Program Council. “I really wanted to show this world what I felt had been hidden from view and that people really did not understand,” said Sapphire.

Sapphire (born Ramona Lofton) doesn’t ignore the controversy about the film, she embraces it to continue the conversation.

“What we’re really seeing in the film is a child in a horrific situation and her community comes to her aid,” she said. “What people forget is her teacher is African-American, her social worker is a woman of color, her African-American nurse is a man of color. So you have the whole functioning Black middle class who rises to this girl’s aid and takes care of her.”

“Up until this point there had been no one that looked like Gabourey Sibide who had not been a maid in a film,” added Sapphire. “In this film we have a heavy-set dark-skinned woman, half African-American, half Senegalese, who is the star of the film. The whole film revolves around her growth, potential and healing. What is negative about that?”

Although the book is fiction, “Push” was a composite of the reality Sapphire encountered as a literacy teacher in Harlem. “All the shame, denial and ranting in the world won’t change the day an HIV-positive student of mine told me ‘I had a baby from my father when I was 12 years old. My baby has Downs Syndrome.’”

Sapphire, an activist and performance artist, is looking forward to using her newfound celebrity to continue those uncomfortable conversations and help the community confront the scourge of HIV, incest and abuse.


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