Producer-turned-director Lee Daniels turned his adaptation of the 1996 novel by Sapphire into a film with help from Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry.

When producer-turned-director Lee Daniels finished “Precious,” his adaptation of the 1996 novel by Sapphire, late last year, he was under the impression that it would be a straight-to-DVD release.


Then he got two ideas. The first came from a remark his mother made when he produced “The Woodsman,” which is about a pedophile, in 2004.


“My mother said to me, ‘Miss Maybelle, down at the church, wants to figure out what I did to you. Why can’t you make movies like Tyler Perry? I need to feel good when I go to church and they talk about you,'” recalls Daniels with a laugh.


Then he thought about getting Oprah Winfrey in on the project.


Before he knew it, both Perry and Winfrey were on board as executive producers, basically lending their names to help it find an audience.


The story of Claireece “Precious” Jones, a hapless teenager in Harlem in the late 1980s, is a grueling one. She’s illiterate and overweight, knocked around by her nasty mother, pregnant for the second time by her monstrous father. Though there’s a strong hint of optimism by film’s end, it’s a tough road getting there. The film opens Friday.


“It is so raw that it will suck the air out of the room,” says Winfrey. “And that’s a very good thing. When I finished watching this film, the first thing I did was call Tyler so I could get Lee’s number and tell him how I was gasping for air. I think it’s a good thing that we are taken to that level of engagement.”


Perry, best known for writing and directing comedies, including the Madea series, agrees about the power of the film.


“For anyone who has endured that kind of situation – with me being one of those people – it left me with hope,” he says. “I think that if people saw it for what it is and understood the power of making it through that kind of situation ... I don’t think it’s dark at all. You can feel really good leaving this movie understanding that no matter what you go through, you’ll be OK.”


“The first time I watched it, I didn’t cry until the card came up saying, ‘For precious girls everywhere’,” recalls Winfrey. “That hit a nerve and I recognized myself in that character. But most of all, I recognized that I have seen the ‘Precious’ girls of the world, and they have been invisible to me. The message from this film is that no one who sees the movie can now walk through the world and allow the Preciouses of the world to be invisible to us again.”


Another card comes up at the beginning of the film that reads “Everything is a gift from the universe.” Winfrey has thought about that for a while, and has come to believe it means that everything comes into your life to help you grow into the next phase.


“It means that if you open yourself to the possibilities of your life, everything that you’re drawing into yourself can help lift you up and help lift you out of wherever you are,” she said.


Asked if she feels that the positive messages she’s given over the years have had much impact, Winfrey initially gets a bit modest.


“I think that’s for other people to determine,” she said. “I think that our show has been able to have a great impact on opening people’s eyes to any myriad of issues, including this film. And I’ve been able to use my platform – the show, the magazine, the radio ...” She stops talking, closes her eyes, shakes her head, smiles, and says to herself, “and whatever else I do, in a way that allows other people to receive it, to make it palatable to other people.”


Daniels is asked if he has any concerns about the potential of the film stigmatizing the black community. He thinks the question through and answers slowly.


“I’m a black filmmaker, so it’s told from a black perspective, and it happens to a black girl,” he says. “But this story is universal. I’ve been around the world with the film and I’m continually shocked and surprised at women from Japan, from Australia, that are 60 and 70 years old that are feeling like they are Precious."


“And,” he adds, “I know for sure that my mother will love this film.”


The Patriot Ledger