If you’ve seen â€œPrecious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphireâ€ you’ve seen Ephraim Benton. He plays â€œSkinny Boy # 1â€ who pushes Precious into the ground for no reason other than to be mean and then laughs about it, one of the many indignities, humiliations and far worse that Precious has to endure.
The movie â€œPreciousâ€ itself has been pushed aside somewhat by subsequent holiday movies, but it remains a surprise critical and commercial hit that five weeks after its nationwide release has earned four times what it cost to make. More importantly, it has moved people to consider the issues portrayed in the film.
Recently, three of the cast members of â€œPreciousâ€ attended a free screening of the film at the Chelsea Clearview Cinemas given to what was described as New York City’s runaway and at-risk youth and stayed to answer questions.
The cast members included Stephanie Andujar and Angelic Zambrana, who play Precious’s classmates Rita and Consuelo, and Ephraim Benton, who is much nicer in person. Not yet 22 years old, Benton has had roles on TV shows for a dozen years, starting with “The Chris Rock Show” and including “NYPD Blues,” “Law and Order” and “The Sopranos.” At the age of 11, he also co-founded, along with other “young men” living in Tompkins Houses in Brooklyn a non-profit community-based organization called Beyond Influencing Da Hood, or B.I.D.H., which organizes an annual barbecue and next year will launch an outdoor summer film series in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Although the audience members at the screening were not demonstrative, it was clear they appreciated what they saw from the very first question after the movie ended: Why was it so short?
â€œYou thought it was short?â€ Angelic Zambrana replied. â€œWell, there was a lot taken out, because the book had a lot of disgusting details about her life. You should really read the book.â€
Second question: The scenes with the classmates seemed so natural: How much of it was scripted, how much improvised?
The scenes were scripted, Zambrana said, “but we developed a strong rapport with each other.”
Another question, from somebody older than the rest of the crowd: What do they think of the criticism that we shouldn’t be showing these terrible things to the public, that it perpetuates a stereotype of the lazy, fat, miserable pregnant black woman on welfare?
“Precious didn’t want to get pregnant,” Zambrana said. She was raped by her father. “She wanted to make her life better.”
“Everyone has a story and a right to tell her story,” Benton said. “This girl went through everything. She got knocked down over and over, and got back up.”
That is a good lesson to be learned from the movie, and not the only one. What the movie should say to the young men in the audience, Stephanie Andujar said, is â€œYoung men, wrap it up. You see what Precious went through. There’s always young kids getting infected every day.
â€œMy father was a heroin addict,â€ she added. â€œHe died this year of colon cancer. We were raised in the welfare system.â€ But, like Precious, she learned to get back up.