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“Precious” Opens!

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The film “Precious” puts a spotlight on many issues social workers confront, including family violence, child abuse, HIV and AIDS and teen pregnancy.

Social workers also play an important role in the gut-wrenching film, which premieres Friday Nov. 6. In fact, pop singer Mariah Carey sheds her diva image to portray “Mrs. Weiss,” a social worker who tries to help the troubled teenager Claireece “Precious” Jones.

But is the film’s portrayal of social workers fair? Do you handle some of the some issues depicted in the movie? “Social Workers Speak” urges you to see “Precious” and let us know what you think. You can post your comments below.

And we can tell you how to reach out to your community and local media to let give them your opinion on “Precious” and its depiction of social work.

How to React to Film:
Are you pleased with how the film “Precious” portrayed social workers or are you upset? If you want to contact your local newspaper, radio or television station to voice your opinion about the gut-wrenching movie, contact Greg Wright at the National Association of Social Workers (GWright@naswdc.org). Greg can give you tips on how to get involved.

How to Find Film:
According to the press, Lionsgate studios will give “Precious” a limited theater release. Is the film playing near you? Go to www.precioustickets.com to find theaters showing the movie and buy tickets.

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33 Comments

  1. I can’t wait to see this movie. I hope it’s good. I’m sure I’ll cry. I’ve seen a lot in online about how Mariah Carey looks in her role as a social worker. Hopefully she did us justice with her acting. I’ve only heard good things about it so far.

  2. I saw a clips on the Oprah show of Mariah Carey’s performance in the movie and my stomache turned when I saw her appearance. While I hope that her role overall is one that portrays social workers in a positive light, I was appalled at the initial impression. In the film her character appears disheveled, poorly dressed, and works in an overcrowded office. When therapists are portrayed on television, well dressed and in nice office they are referred to as therapists and the general public tends to assume that the characters portrayed are psychologists or psychiatrists. Based on the clips I have seen, Mariah Carey’s presentation portrays social workers as untrained, unkept, underpaid workers- an image that we are all trying to erradicate.

  3. NASW-NJ is offering Film & CEs, Even Dinner!

    Join us on Wednesday, November 11, 2009 – 2:00 – 6:00p.m. for a
    special screening of Lee Daniel’s “Precious” (Based on the novel, “Push” by Sapphire).

    “A vibrant, honest and resoundingly hopeful film about the human capacity to grow and overcome.” http://www.weareallprecious.com

    &

    Social and Cultural Competence Workshop
    presented by David Barry, LSW, JD at Union Theaters in Union, NJ
    $60 Members, $75 Non-Members, $20 Students (Sorry, gold card ineligible event.)
    Includes movie admission, popcorn and soda, 3 CEUs and light dinner reception following event.

    For more information or to register, please visit our website at http://www.naswnj.org or contact LaTesha Holmes at lholmes@naswnj.org.

  4. Thanks for posting that information! We would love for NASW members to watch the movie and share their comments on Social Workers Speak.

  5. As a social worker who was a professional actor, I wait for this production with a special point of view. I am very sensitive to public perception of social workers, and I am very aware of the focus of movie producers and writers to the way that a story is told. If we are to be focused in the fight to present ourselves as “well dressed and professional,” then we have to do alot more than just complain about it. It’s very important that the perception of social workers be changed from the ground up. We do NOT actively seek to change this perception. To a certain degree, I am proud of the perception that we have as “hands dirty, in the middle of the battle” professionals. It is important to remember that this presentation of conflict is what makes drama effective. On the other hand, if the outcome is to make us look like ill informed ignorant buffoons, then that serves no good purpose for social workers. Again, as an actor, it would be my privilege to be called upon to work in front of the camera again, or to work in an advisory capacity to safeguard the representation of our profession. Besides, it would be fun!!

  6. I am excited about seeing the movie and I am looking forward to seeing how Mariah Carey protrays the social worker. In fact, I never really thought about how social workers have been depicted in previous films prior to this post. Honestly, I guess I focused more so on being able to identify with working in poor conditons, having minimal support from management, trying to meet the numbers of grants and more importantly identifying with burnout.

    It is important that we recognize the reality of the field. This field is not respected by those who have a huge impact on what we do. Grants are approved by members of the government who do not have social work degrees, they do not properly audit the conditions of the work environment, they do not require management to have supervison on staff and they do not follow NASW salary standards.

    Truth be told we are underpaid, some of us are untrained because agencies refuse to provide supervision and mentorship due to lack of time and staff and they have this throw him/her out to the sharks and let them learn way of thinking. And while we may not be unkempt, we may not be the best dressed due to poor office conditions and again low paying salaries. Just as our environment plays a huge impact on the clients we service, the environments we work in dictate how we are as a professional as well. From some we are trying to survive and hold our head above water in poorly managed systems.

    I am assuming the media can only depict a preception that they deem to be true based on “snipets” of our reality as a profession, we are overworked, underpaid, burned out and in the middle of the battle as mentioned by Randy. The question is does it matter that we are well dressed, underpaid, overworked and burned out? Or does it matter that overall as a profession well dressed or not we are wronged.

    So I am looking forward to the movie and I can only hope while Mariah Carey may have been depicted as a dishelved individual she was a caring and helpful social worker doing the work that we do best and that is help!

  7. I am an MSW student and a fan of Mariah Carey, and I admire her even more for putting the glam aside to present herself as a Social Worker. Social Work is a humble profession that does not get the accolades and respect that is deserved. I just started reading the book and I am looking forward to completing it, and even more so, looking forward to seeing the movie. I hope that it does justice to Social Work as a profession. I agree with the points made by Jackson.

  8. I was very excited when I heard about this movie. I have been a fan of Mariah Carey since I’m a kid, so I always try to keep tabs on her new music/movie roles. I also happen to be a social worker, so when I heard that she was playing one in this film, I immediatly began to envision what she would look like. And then I saw the previews. I have yet to see the movie, so I will refrain from posting my full comments. Let me just say this. I have been bothered by the overall appearance of some “real life” social workers I have met/worked with during my young professional career. I am not surprised that Miss Mariah is portrayed as a frumpy, make-up less, fashion victim. Where do you think the inspiration for her character came from? In my opinion, you can still be a caring and compassionate social worker, and NOT look like you just rolled out of bed. And that’s all I’m saying…for now.

  9. I’m a field instructor in a federally funded Public Child Welfare Training Program and we are taking our BSW and MSW interns on a field-trip to view this movie.

    My hope is to have the students tap into some level of empathy that’s required to provide adequate services to our vulnerable children and their families. In addition, I want the students to see a glimpse of what some of our children are experiencing and the associated trama which could in many cases last a life time.

    As a result maybe just maybe our aspiring social workers will have a different perspective on why some of our vulnerable children struggle while trying to cope with everyday life situations most people take for granted.

    My personal expectation is that the social worker in the movie be depicted in a caring, empathic, ethical, and competent light. God bless social workers and the vulnerable populations we serve.

  10. Her appearance alone make me not want to see the movie. That may be bad but I am friends with many social workers and none of us dress of look like that. I am offended with the message it gives about me and my collegues.

  11. Roni her appearance threw me off a little bit too, but let us hope that apart from the small nuances, she executes her job in the manner in which a well trained, ethical social worker would. And of course, i am thinking that she is acting the role of a very traditional social worker, traditonal social work is very different from modern day social work. I have not read the book so I really do not know if her role is depicted adequately as it is in the book.

    But maybe she is supposed to be a case worker, in a lot of states ,including this state, a lot of case workers call themselves social workers, just because they provide social services. Many do not have a social work degree, and , or a social work license.

  12. I am a licensed clinical social worker and a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. The base requirement for these credentials is the MSW.

    I have worked as a social worker in various roles since 1987 when I got my degree, and I am still reluctant to tell anyone that I am a Social Worker, due to the stigma attached to the phrase, “social worker.” I might say I am a therapist with a Master’s Degree in Social Work, etc etc.

    I agree with Hugh, above, that too many people call themselves or others, “social workers” without having a clue as to what that really means. Too bad they didn’t rename the profession when they formalized it.

    My bet is that the “social worker” in the movie is actually a “social service worker,” or a case worker. My experience is that anyone with an advanced degree — working in the child protection field — is a supervisor, program director, etc. Not a field worker out in the trenches, which is where the public interfaces with the system.

  13. There’s nothing “Precious” about this film. I’ve seen the movie and the terrible depiction of social work is the least of its problems. In an early scene in the movie, “Slumdog Millionnaire,” a young child dives into the bottom of an outhouse to see his favorite movie star. That’s how I felt after this movie. I went in expecting to see a “powerful portrayal” and emerged covered in the sewage of Lee Daniels’ [and Sapphire’s] distorted and dangerous depiction of impoverished African Americans.

    The African Americans in this movie who were nearest to this child were incompetent, cruel, abusive, profane, manipulative, predatory or lazy. Even “soul food” was held up to ridicule and characterized as “abuse.” Only “professionals” have values, compassion or moral compasses.

    What was most scary, though, is that these caricatures are believable to the general public. I am an African American, a mother, and a social worker. In one fell swoop, this movie attacked everything thing that I am and spread lies about what I am not.

    I would strongly caution social worker against taking interns or staff to see this movie, as it could be interpreted as your endorsement of these stereotypes. As social workers, we must not only stand up for ourselves, but also for the images of the people we serve.

  14. I am curious about this movie. I work at an AMC movie theater and was hoping that the theater that I work at would get this movie. As of today we do not have this movie and no other theater in the Danbury, CT area got this movie. I am hoping that a theater in my area will get this movie, even better if it comes to my theater so that I can watch it for free. I will respond if i am able to see the movie.

    ~Amy

  15. Kris I am a Black male, originally from the Caribbean, and I did my BSW at Midwestern State University in texas. I remember once a friend of mine who was also from the caribbean asked me what I was majoring in, and I said to her it was Social Work, and her response was, “Why would you leave the Caribbean and come here to the USA to study Social Work”. She said, and I quote, “you should study something with an “OLOGY”, Like psychology, sociology, anthropology Biology etc. Well the Joke is, she has a bachelors and Masters degree ( 8yrs now) in Psychology but no one will employ her with the psychology degree. As a male from the caribbean, I was very embarassed at that time to tell others what my major was. Now am proud to say am a social worker, oftentimes though, I will identify myself as a clinical social worker.

    But of course I agree with you that sometimes I am just tempted to say am a therapist, but in one way I feel like if I do that, I am helping in stagnating the profession of social work and promoting that old stereotype about what social workers do, or can do.

  16. Kudos to you Hugh for standing your ground- we are the next generation of social workers, and if let society’s depiction of our profession impact how we see ourselves and profession, the view of our profession will never change-
    The change starts with us- if we start to devalue our work, and have shame in saying “I’m a social worker” we’ll never get the respect that we deserve- no matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we work, and no matter what population we work with.
    We have to educate the public and correct people- we have to get on their level and show them that there are social workers in hospitals, schools, clinics administration, politics, forensics, and human services- social workers are everywhere-
    sadly the poor reputation of the profession is hindering our ability to perform, for SOME to get adequate pay, and for people to see the benefit of our profession- but if we keep standing up for our profession, I think we’ll get there….and hopefully once we start ADVOCATING for ourselves, others will start to see the value in our profession

  17. I have seen the movie Precious…in one word HEAVY!!! TO HEAVY to comment but very well done my hat goes off to the cast..

    I am simply posting a comment in response to Mariah Carey’s role as a social worker…It is very simple…She was NOT a social worker she was a CASE WORKER….She represented the lack of skill, experience and education that I encounter with CASE WORKER’S using the title SOCIAL WORKER.

    I could care less that she looked disheveled…I was appalled that they implied that she was conducting a family therapy session. We need to stand up together and reclaim our title…

    Please take a moment and look in a NYC newspaper job posting for social work positions. You will see it stating looking for BS social worker…there is no such thing a social worker is a MSW with a LMSW, LSW,LCSW etc…..someone with a BS is a CASE WORKER….

  18. I recently saw the movie “Precious” over the weekend and thought that it was a fantastic depiction of the tragedy that so many children and families face. I read the book “Push” almost 12 years ago and for the purposes of making the film, it hit its mark.

    I agree with some of the other writers regarding the use of the term “social worker”. Mariah Carey’s role was that of a case worker/manager and the lack of SW skills displayed was evident. Though the portrayal was not as accurate as it could have been, I believe that student interns can still learn valuable lessons from the film on dealing with clients with these issues. Additionally, this movie allows interns and instructors to have dialogue about the accuracy/inaccuracies of Mariah Carey’s role and to have an intellectual conversation on the pros and cons of having people in the helping field without proper training, how their roles are still beneficial, and perhaps how Social Workers can educate Hollywood on a more “realistic” portrayal of our role.

    At the end of the day, we must not forget that the lives of the people we serve are of the utmost importance, and that proper training and education are critical to serving them in the best way for them. I offer my congrats to the cast for an overall job well done.

  19. Hello everyone!

    I am very eager to see this movie and am hoping it comes to a theater near me soon. In the meantime though, can anyone tell me the names of other movies where there is a “social worker” character? I am interested to see how social workers are played in all movies. Thank you! (By the way, if you would like to email me, with names of movies, my email address is Suzymamaxo@aol.com)

    -Suzanne

  20. I’m excited about seeing this movie. And to be honest, every since I got into the social work field, I watch few movies with emotional intensity any more because it just gets to be too much. We’ll be doing a screening here in New Jersey with NASW-NJ, which promises to be a great discussion piece.

    Enjoy!

  21. To the topic of CASE WORKER vs. SOCIAL WORKER—I find this to be very difficult to explain to those outside of the realm of Social Work.

    I just graduated with my BSW and intend to work for a couple of years before getting my MSW. Many of my friends assume that I am a “social worker” now. I try to explain that I’m not a social worker yet and it’s difficult for them to grasp after hearing the term used so loosely by films, tv shows and news articles.

    It’s like…you wouldn’t call my friend who has a Bachelor’s in Psychology a Psychologist, would you?

    As for the film…I’d like to read the book that it is based upon and see if the character is described as a “social worker”. Does anyone know?

  22. My concern with this movie is that the so called social worker (Mariah Carey) failed to be a mandated reporter. Failed to provide safety after Precious disclosed that her parents were abusing her. I feel that Lee Daniels failed to research child welfare, social work practice and ethical standards. I agree that this film could be used in social work educational settings with a goal for the student to identify its flaws.

  23. I have been thinking a lot about this forum and I was wondering. it may be a shot in the dark but perhaps it would be worth trying to reach out to the Oprah Winfrey show and sharing some of our concerns about this movie and the portrayal of social workers. They have had so many experts on the show who were from other disciplines such as psychologists, psychiatrists etc. and I have never seen an expert social worker on their show discussing their area of expertise. The same occurs when I see experts speaking about mental health issues on television. Even when they are likely a social worker, their titles are never displayed as such (usually it only says their name) however, the titles of psychologists and psychiatrists are displayed. Its time that we either change these misconceptions or change the title of MSW level social workers so that we don’t have to deal with the stigma. I wonder if NASW would be willing to contact Oprah’s producers perhaps for social work month so that we can celebrate our profession and clarify some of the misconceptions.

  24. response to Maria. Great Idea!

  25. I was thrilled that the portrayal of a social worker (aside from doing therapy in a cubicle) was well done, especially as so often we are portrayed as taking children away from families of color. I appreciated the humor in their exchange when Precious tried to find out more about Ms. Weiss. Her later comment, sympathizing with her teacher’s search for resources, that “too bad she wasn’t a social worker” really cheered me. I’m fed up with the dowdy social worker stereotype though–even Marian the Librarian gets to be sexy with her glasses off!

  26. Oh yes and I agree a MAJOR flaw was that the social worker (and the teacher) –mandated reporters–failed to report suspected abuse re: Precious early on. Spoiler Alert: Another flaw was the portrayal of HIV infection, indicating results were given after delivery when, in fact, a high risk pregnancy would have indicated early intervention. My guess is the first child would test positive and the second as well unless AZT was administered during the pregnancy. Btw, the book is even more searing…

  27. I am a MSW student at a prominent school in Southern California. I am a Belizean American female. I viewed this film and I enjoyed the film tremendously. The content of the film was extremely PROVOCATIVE, UNSETTLING, and REAL. Some of the previous posts unfairly slams the portrayal of the CASE worker (played by Mariah Carey). Whom I might add, IS NOT PORTRAYED AS A SOCIAL WORKER.

    However, before I begin my critique of the film, I just want to remind readers of this post that (if you actually watched the film) the film depicted the era of the 1980’s–a time when social work as a profession was still growing and earning the respect of the community. Everyone on this post is well aware of the HISTORY attached to the profession of social work (especially in the turbulent 1980’s). With that said, take into account that when viewing this film, the character is not experiencing the abuses (she ultimately survives) in present 2009–People, the film is depicted in the 1980’s. Thus, be prepared to watch this film with a critical eye.

    The question we ought to ask ourselves, is NOT what Mariah Carey is wearing–PLEASE! What we should focus on is how much the profession of social work has grown. We should focus on how much more the profession of social work is respected and taken more seriously, NOW.

    Therefore, if there is any slamming to be had, focus on the unknown character who played the actual social worker (the gal who made home visit’s to Precious’ house). I challenge all of you (esp. the seasoned sw) to examine yourselves. As you worked your way up the ranks, did you ever turn a blind eye on a case or a person in need?

    In closing, let us reflect on ourselves first before we through dirt onto others. I think that directer Lee Daniels had a very grimy, dirty, unsettling, provocative, but REAL story to tell. I think the director attempted to stay as true to the moral and value of the people of that era. The hopelessness, the despair, the poverty was so telling you could smell it, you could taste it with every scene. This is probably the most important film of the year.

    Note: My critique…(almost forgot, I get so passionate sometimes : ) ) This is a GREAT film. And I appreciate that some of you made the serious effort to be open and engaged some of your interns to attend the film in a group and encouraged dialogue. This film highlights possibilities of what truly goes on…the UNDERREPORTED (or rather left UNREPORTED) events that may occur in the communities that we serve.

  28. I agree with Jackson and especially with Sherrita Cobbs. The film is real. Mariah’s character image is not important here. What is important are the social problems which arise out of this film. Case workers or social workers should learn from this film and read into behaviours and innuendos which cause many of them to overlook abuse and needy persons.

    The field has grown tremendously! Don’t bash it…learn from the film! Embrace the film! These problems don’t only occur in the United States…but also in the Caribbean( where I am from) and worldwide by extension.

  29. I thought this was a terrific movie. I was very much engaged. I think the comment about having the social worker do therapy in her cubicle is accurate in that’ it was unprofessional, but it also misses the point, this is just a movie. Movie directors change reality to fit the needs of the movie. It never goes the reverse.

    It bothered me that the social worker didn’t pick up the vibe in the household when she visited. It seemed like the Grandmother and Precious were very tense and that seemed like something worthy of investigation. But the sad truth is that if this was real, the social worker probably simply wouldn’t have the time. But I really enjoyed a movie that tried to show normal people’s real and terrible struggles, rather than another chase film.

  30. After watching “Precious,” I think that social workers are not portrayed the right way. Firstly, I agree with another comment that I read earlier, which mentioned the fact that a social worker would never be in charge of handing in the welfare check and doing therapy as well. Furthermore, as the person mentioned, a therapy session would not take place in a cubicle where anyone can hear a conversation that is between the therapist and the client.

    One other thing that struck me was the fact that Ms. Weiss never reported the sexual abuse Precious suffered. Precious should have been removed from her home as soon as Ms. Weiss found out about it.
    I also felt that Ms. Weiss lacked empathy. Ms. Weiss never talked to Precious in a way that made the girl feel, she understood her. I thought Ms. Rain, the teacher did a much better job at showing support and understanding, and encouraging Precious to better herself despite all the trauma the girl was experiencing.

  31. Several people have commented that although the social workers portrayed in the film did not handle the situation or family well, students, interns and current social workers can learn a lot from the movie. I agree that those involved in the social work field can learn a lot. As an MSW student, it reinforced for me what not to do, and gave me more motivation to be a better social worker.

    However, I don’t necessarily think it should get a free pass just because the film took place in the 80s. It isn’t only social workers who are seeing this movie. What impressions are everyone else walking away with? Are they considering that it’s set in the 80s, or are they walking away thinking it’s a prime example of how the “system” doesn’t work and it takes extraordinary ‘ordinary’ people (like Blu) to make the real difference? That is my concern. That other people won’t understand the complexities of the movie and will leave with a negative impression of social workers and social services.

    While the movie raises critical issues that children face every day, we also have a need to raise awareness about all of the good that social services provide because we need the public’s support to continue to make an impact.

  32. Given the era that this movie depicts, I believe the profession of social work was portrayed in a realistic light. The first social worker that interviews the mother in the house missed many cues of something amiss, but whos to say that addressing them at that moment would have been the proper forum, remember self-perservation.

    I thought the images of Mariah Carey were fair and mostly accurate. Let’s remember the times, the 1980’s, the knowledge and information for the social work profession was not as thorough and “evidence-based” as if is now. I thought she was depicted a realistic as can possibly be given the circumstances. Did she always show empathy, probably not, was her professionalism hat on throughout the movie, probably not, but did she handle what was dropped in her lap despite the horror and emotions she felt, definitely yes. We can all Monday morning quarterback with hindsight being twenty twenty, but if any of us were back in the day and dealing with life’s situations with many arrows in our quiver as we have today, who are we to judge. She did the best she could with what she had…thank God she was there.

  33. The entire movie was completely disturbing. Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, and Mariah deserve the highest praise. It’s terrible when human beings slip through the system. As much as the system fails, teachers and social workers can still really affect individual change.

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