Socialworkersspeaks on FacebookFollow Us on TwitterRSS Feed

Can “Precious” be a Teaching Tool?

Associate Professor Richard Sullivan (inset) and "Precious" movie poster.

Associate Professor Richard Sullivan encourages students watch the film “Precious.”

He just hopes they never have to deal with such a harrowing case of child abuse like the one handled by fictional social worker Mrs. Weiss in the film.

“It’s unusual for me to recommend that kind of movie, a Hollywood movie,” said Sullivan, who teaches at the University of British Columbia School of Social Work in Canada but has also worked as a social worker and taught college courses in the United States.

“I teach a course in child welfare practice and I also oversee (students) in the field,” he continued. “I want them to see this movie but I don’t want to have a case like this for a long time.”, the Web site that gets social workers talking about and influencing how they and issues they care about are portrayed in the media, launched last November during the same week “Precious” premiered in theaters. So the film was one of the Web site’s first features.

“Precious” divided social workers, who wondered how glitzy pop diva Mariah Carey would play the role of Mrs. Weiss. Some had no problem with the portrayal and the fact she got more notice for dressing down to play the part. However, other social workers protested.

“While I thought the movie was good, I hated the way the social worker was portrayed in this movie,” said C. Coats, one of more than a hundred people who left comments about the film on “It was very unrealistic.”

Sullivan said one thing he wants students to learn from the film is the price children pay when social workers do not intervene early enough and abuse continues, sometimes for years. Claireece “Precious” Jones in the film was illiterate, sexually abused by her father and mother since she was a toddler, twice impregnated by her father, and HIV positive.

Another point Sullivan said he wants students to note is the “cookie-cutter” approach of trying to repair dysfunctional families and keep them intact can do irreparable harm to children such as the fictional Precious.

“There are cases — and the movie depicted it — where there is nothing to preserve,” he said.

Photo courtesy of

Sullivan’s views on “Precious” have gained public attention. The college’s public affairs office invited a social work professor to write about the film, which recently won two Oscars and was released on DVD. Sullivan took up the challenge and the Vancouver Sun picked up his piece. To read it click here.

“I initially declined the invitation to write that piece,” Sullivan said. “I’m a social worker, not a movie reviewer.”

“But I changed my mind when somebody at work said it is an opportunity to shine a light on the profession and to correct bad impressions,” he said.

Sullivan is also probably not the only one using the movie as a teaching tool. In fact Sapphire, the author who wrote the book on which “Precious” is based, said professors used her novel to teach students at the Hunter College School of Social Work in New York City. College officials could not immediately confirm Sapphire’s claim.

Sullivan said several of his students have seen “Precious.”

“They were quite moved by it — they got my point,” he said. “I would hope they would not have a case like this for a long time because I don’t want them to experience that kind of despair.”


Q: Now that the DVD is available are you using the film “Precious” as a tool to teach students or are you encouraging other social workers to see the film to gain insight into the profession?

|   Leave A Comment
Tagged as: , , , , , , , ,



  1. Although this film may be a good teaching tool re: abuse, etc., I would not recommend it as an example of what a social worker does for the victims in these situations. I found the interactions, language used, and projected affect that Mariah Carey portrayed as the social worker to be very demeaning. The role was written poorly and the director did not help counter the script at all. It appears as though Mariah Carey was directed to play the role as detached and unsympathetic as possible. Any social worker who works in with abused populations knows that social workers do not behave that way with their clients. Just my opinion….

  2. I definitely think this movie can be used as a teaching tool! The movie depicts every type of abuse a person can experience physically, emotionally, and sexually! I work in child welfare so I know how bad it can be for a child who has been abused. This movie would serve as the perfect tool in social work classrooms!

  3. I agree. There are many opportunities for movies to be teaching tools you just have to uncover the learning opportunities. However, for this movie it is thrown right at you! Having worked with sexually abused children, I think it is hard for the average person to even imagine the numbers of children that experience child abuse much less the extent of the abuse.

  4. That’s right. Sometimes it’s hard to believe the extent to which some individual suffer in the world. It’s as if some people are born to suffer bitterly and others live in sheer happiness!

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.