In 1987 in Harlem, obese, African American teenager, Claireece “Precious” Jones, trudges to class while reflecting that the three things she wants out of life are a light-skin boyfriend, to be on the cover of a magazine and, primarily, to appear in a BET video, despite the fact that her mother, Mary, does not believe she can dance. Although Precious likes her math teacher, Mr. Wicher, and is good in the subject, she does not participate in class, hoping daily that something will happen to change her life. One afternoon, upon being summoned to see the principal, Monica Lichenstein, Precious refuses to divulge whether or not she is pregnant. When Ms. Lichenstein expresses concern over Precious already having a young child and suggests a parent-teacher conference, Precious advises against it. Regretfully, Ms. Lichenstein suspends Precious, who angrily insists that she is guiltless and her grades are good. At home that evening, when Precious admits that she was unable to get Mary her cigarettes, her mother bashes her in the head with a skillet. Dazed, Precious recalls her father, Carl, raping her and bringing about her pregnancy. Struggling to distance herself from the painful memory, Precious imagines herself glamorously dressed at a film premiere greeting fans with her light skinned, handsome boyfriend at her side. Mary brings Precious out of her dazed imaginings by throwing a pan of water over her. Later that evening as Precious fixes dinner, the front buzzer goes off several times and, upon answering it, Precious is distressed to hear Ms. Lichenstein. Despite Mary’s ominous warning to get rid of the woman, Precious listens while the principal informs her that, based on a recommendation from Mr. Wicher, she has referred Precious to an alternative education program called “Each One-Teach One.” Pleased by Mr. Wicher’s support, Precious ignores Mary’s mounting hostile criticism and retreats to her bedroom. Incensed, Mary loudly denigrates her daughter, berating her for “stealing Carl,” and for being “stupid.” When a weary Precious finally half-heartedly throws her shoe down the stairs at her mother, Mary rushes upstairs to attack her. The next morning as Mary smokes, dances and watches television, Precious looks through a photo album, imagining the photos of her mother and Mr. Wicher speaking to her with praise, love and adoration. At the “Each One-Teach One” school, Precious is met by the dubious receptionist, Cornrows, who then acknowledges that Ms. Lichenstein has rushed through her transfer papers. Uneasy about having to take placement tests, Precious walks back home trying to be optimistic about the new program, when she is insulted and knocked down by some teenage boys. Stunned, Precious momentarily envisions herself filming a dance video in front of an enthusiastic audience as her handsome boyfriend waits in the wings. The next morning, aware of Mary’s volatile mood, Precious prepares tensely for school and, glancing in the mirror, sees herself as a slender, white, blond girl. Despite Precious’ attempt to slip out of the apartment unnoticed, Mary summons her back to the bedroom where she sexually abuses her. Later, Precious steals a bucket of fried chicken and gorges on it before returning to her new school where she is promptly sick. Afterward, Precious is met by attractive young teacher, Ms. Blu Rain, who teaches a preparatory course for taking the GED exam. The class consists of half a dozen other young women, Rita, Rhonda, Jermaine, the sassy Joann and proud Puerto Rican, Consuelo. Ms. Rain asks the students to each begin a journal, writing who they are, where they are from and something at which they excel. Although initially uncomfortable about reading her entry aloud, Precious eventually begins participating in class. Over the next few classes, Precious is gently but firmly encouraged to participate in her studies by Ms. Rain and drops her defensive manner. One afternoon, Mary angrily demands to know why Precious has not been in school, which she has learned through the welfare office. When Precious explains her transfer to the new school, Mary insists she cannot have her welfare payments reduced because there is no official verification of Precious’ schooling, then proceeds to denigrate Precious’ abilities. Masking her hurt and frustration, Precious imagines herself in the foreign movie showing on television, with a firm, but more loving Mary in the role as the exotic mother. A few days later, Precious meets with welfare representative, Ms. Weiss, and bluntly demands to know how she can help with the harsh realities of Precious’ home life. Ms. Weiss is taken aback when she asks about Precious’ first child, who the girl calls “Mongo,” as the toddler suffers from Downs Syndrome. On another day soon after, Mary’s mother, who takes care of Mongo in her own home, brings the child to Mary’s apartment to help prepare for the regular visit from a social worker. During the meeting, Mary, made-up and in a wig, assures the woman that she regularly searches for employment and takes Mongo to doctor visits, although she cannot produce the documents for either claim. On the next visit with Ms. Weiss, Precious inadvertently admits that Carl fathered both her children, but refuses to elaborate, only describing giving birth to Mongo on the kitchen floor while Mary kicked her in the head. Stunned, Ms. Weiss insists that Precious begin regular visits or the agency will be forced to reduce or stop Mary’s welfare checks. School continues to provide Precious with much needed relief and she grows in confidence, writing regularly in her journal and cheerfully attending Ms. Rain’s field trips, one of which is to a museum. In class one afternoon before Christmas, just as Precious begins reciting a story she wrote, she goes into labor and is rushed to the hospital. After Precious gives birth to a healthy boy, whom she names Abdul Jamal Jones, her classmates visit and tease her about African American nurse, John McFadden, who spends time with Precious, encouraging her to eat healthier and continue with her studies. Ms. Rain also visits and keeps up a steady stream of encouragement via the journal, which she and Precious exchange back and forth. Unpressured and relaxed in the hospital, Precious concludes that she must raise both of her children on her own. When challenged by Ms. Rain, who fears Precious will, like Mary, resort to dependence on welfare and reject her schooling, Precious stubbornly insists that she will manage. Upon taking Abdul home, Precious is met by a suspicious, angry Mary who, after saying the baby looks like Carl, orders Precious to fix her dinner. As Mary resumes her demeaning abuse of Precious, her daughter turns on her and demands to know why she stood by and allowed Carl’s assaults. Furious, Mary strikes Precious, but, for the first time, Precious fights back, resulting in a tumultuous brawl. After throwing Mary into the wall, Precious takes Abdul and her backpack and flees. As Precious and the baby rest on the bottom stairwell, Mary drags the television to the railing and pushes it over, but Precious is able to leap aside in time to prevent being injured. Precious then wanders the streets with Abdul, imagining herself safe in a warm church where she joins a gospel choir performing joyfully. With nowhere else to go, Precious breaks into the school where she and Abdul are discovered by Ms. Rain and Cornrows. Distressed, Ms. Rain immediately sets about arranging a place for Precious, but due to the lateness of the day and the Christmas break, offers to temporarily take her and the baby to her apartment instead. There, Ms. Rain introduces Precious to her partner Katherine and Precious is stunned to realize that Ms. Rain is a “straight up lesbian.” After dinner, Ms. Rain and Katherine give Precious a Christmas present, then play Scrabble and Precious is amazed to experience a caring and respectful home life. In the next few weeks, Precious and Abdul move into a half-way house, where Precious devotes herself to the baby while continuing to attend school. When Precious wins the Mayor’s Literacy Award, the school throws her a party which Nurse John attends and who Precious introduces to Cornrows. Later, while helping Ms. Rain clean up, Precious privately admires her teacher’s strength and dedication. Knowing that she cannot remain at the half-way house permanently, Precious nevertheless wonders if she will ever be able to afford her own apartment. Months later, Mary visits Precious to tearfully inform her that Carl has died from AIDS. Stunned, Precious ignores Mary’s query when she will return home and imagines herself the center of a high-fashion photo shoot. After advising Mary to see a doctor, Precious visits a clinic where tests confirm that she is HIV positive. Unable to focus at school, Precious angrily confides in Ms. Rain, declaring that her condition is the result of the only “love” she has experienced. Ms. Rain assures Precious that her experiences are not based on love, and asserts that Precious is truly loved by Abdul and by her. Soon after, at her regular meeting with Ms. Weiss, Precious learns that Mary has asked to meet with her and the children, in hopes of bringing about reconciliation. Hesitantly, Precious agrees, but also decides that, despite the challenges, she will continue with school and try for a better life. A few days later, Precious and Abdul meet Mary at Ms. Weiss’s office. Urged by Ms. Weiss to explain Precious’ home life, Mary haltingly describes having Precious, whom she initially loved whole heartedly, even when it became a challenge to juggle care for her, and keeping Carl sexually and emotionally satisfied. Although Mary admits that Carl began sexually abusing Precious when she was still a baby, she acknowledges that fear of losing him led her to allow the behavior to continue. Over time, as Carl lost interest in her, Mary describes growing to hate Precious for taking him from her and prompting his eventual abandonment. When Ms. Weiss tentatively asks about Mary’s own abuse of Precious, Mary tearfully asks where else was she to get physical affection and love. Mary then goes out into the hall where her mother has Mongo, and bringing the child to Precious, asks if they can be reunited. When Ms. Weiss asks Mary about allowing the original abuse of Precious as a baby, Precious interrupts, saying the situation is beyond the welfare agent’s abilities. Taking Mongo and Abdul, Precious stands and, turning to Mary, states that she never knew her mother until that moment and declares that she will never see her again. Out in the street, Precious, Mongo and Abdul move off, blending in with the crowd in the bright sunshine.