Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Blind Side of Racism

The Blind Side

The one question that kept running through my head when I was watching The Blind Side was whose story is this film really telling?

The Blind Side is based on the true-life story of Michael Oher's (Quinton Aaron) journey from homeless teen to professional NFL player. Hailing from the Memphis projects, Michael spent a good portion of his time moving from foster home to foster home after the state took him away from his crack addicted mother. It is only when Michael is accepted into a Christian private high school, mainly on the basis that his size may help the school's sports teams, that his life begins to change for the better. Michael he meets Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy (Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw), a wealthy Republican couple who offers him a place to stay. Over time, the relationship between Michael and Tuohys proves mutually beneficial. Michael's grades improve and the chances of getting a college football scholarship become a reality; while the Tuohys, by embracing Michael, realize that they should not take their life for granted.

The Tuohys should be commended for their act of generosity. It is heartwarming to know that there are still people in this world who genuinely go out of their way to help those in need. Unfortunately, the way that the story is portrayed on film is just downright insulting to all parties involved.

The Blind Side should really be about Michael's rise to the top with the assistance of the Tuohy family. Instead the film is about Tuohy family opening their doors to Michael. What is the difference you ask? Well it is all in the details. Let us use another Oscar nominated movie, Precious, as an example. What is the most compelling aspect of that film? Precious' life or the teacher who helps Precious see her potential? Obviously that film would not have had the same impact it did if director Lee Daniel's had approached the story from the teachers point of view. Which is exactly why The Blind Side is so offensive.

In The Blind Side, Michael's story is only told in spurts. We get brief flashbacks to the most traumatic event in Michael's life but it is not truly explained until near the end of the picture. Come to think of if, every aspect of Michael's life prior to meeting the Tuohys is reduced to mere footnotes. Let's see... Mother? A drug addict. Siblings? Out there somewhere. Kid who got accepted at private school along with Michael? Gang member. Etc. Heck, we do not even get Michael's perspective on the Tuohy family themselves. The only thing The Blind Side director, John Lee Hancock, offers up from Michael is a few lines such as "I thought I was already part of the family." Though we hear a lot in the film about what the family thinks of Michael.

This is further evident when you think about the adjustment Michael would have had to make. We are rarely shown what Michael had to endure living in an all white community. We see brief scenes of Michael sitting by himself in study hall, and racist remarks being hurled at the football game, but at no point does Michael comment on any of it, or express how he copes on a daily basis. Instead we must watch Leigh Anne's plight as the members of her country club start to question her actions. Even when the film takes a turn at the end, and Michael's future is in jeopardy, we are still shown the Tuohy's discussing the issue rather than Michael.

Not only is Oher's life story secondary to Leigh Anne Tuohy and her family's but, to add further insult, Michael is portrayed as borderline autistic for the majority of the film. Yes Michael may not have the best reading skills but, as Ms. Boswell (Kim Dickens) points out on numerous occasions, Michael is smarter than everyone thinks he is. Not only is he a writer but he can retain a ton of information that is given to him orally. Yet, despite all of this, we are shown scenes of Michael being mesmerized by balloons in the sky, the Forrest Gump-like scenes where he only stopped running once the whistle was blown, etc. Heck, there is even a scene where Leigh Anne needs to point out the art of buying if Michael has never been in a store before! The kid may be poor, but he is not the simple-minded Neanderthal that the film makes him out to be.

I cannot help but wonder if Michael would have been portrayed the same way if the racial lines were reversed? Would Michael's history be told in brief flashbacks had he been white and taken in by a well-to-do black family? Would the actor still portray Michael as borderline autistic? Would the film even be told from the families point of view? Or would it be an underdog rag-to-riches tale like Eminem's 8 Mile?

I know some, my fiancée included, thought that Tuohy's tale was worthy of being on film. Again, I have nothing against what Leigh Anne Tuohy and her family did. As I mentioned above, I think they did a wonderful thing. I might have been a little easier on the film had both sides of the story been told in an even manner. Yet, as it stands, I found The Blind Side, as a movie, to be both insulting and extremely offensive.


  1. I never even thought of these issues you raise, it was not really that offensive to me (I'm black) but your points are really quite potent. Ah well.

  2. @Andrew - I am black as well and normally I do not see race in most films unless it is the main focus of the story (e.g. Cry Freedom, Mississippi Burning, etc.) Yet I found it odd that Michael seemed to be a passanger in his own movie. The longer the film went on the more it really started to bother me.

  3. Interesting insight. I haven't seen the movie so far so I can't really comment on it but you definitely raise a great point.

  4. @Castor - Thanks. I would love to hear you take on the film once you get around to seeing it.

  5. I completely agree! For me the most insulting thing was when they made the little kid be the guy's manager.
    How the big guy sits down next to the 8 year old and listens while he negotiates his future colleges!
    I'm sure it was a moment meant to make people go "awww look how cute the kid is", but in the context of the movie and its overall message it was practically screaming how a rich white kid is obviously smarter than a poor black man. And instead of commending Bullock for being enjoyable, I think people should really judge her for having read this screenplay and accepting to take such a racist role.

  6. @Jose - The cute kid aspect started to bother me after a while as well. As for Bullock, I cannot knock her for taking the role as the script often change from the initial read to shooting/editing phase. Still, the success of this film means that, sadly, we will probably have to endure more of films like this over the next few years.

  7. Anonymous12:32 pm

    The overall message here? Black people need generous whites to civilize us and save us from ourselves. Give me a break.

  8. Anonymous8:55 pm

    It is always interesting to read up on what others think about such topics. Over analyzing things all the time is no good to anyone. Racism today is only a problem, because those who are oppressed, continue to think of themselves as being oppressed. Stories like Big Mike and the Touhy family should be enough in itself to realize that what was once a problem is no longer a problem, and that help is available to those who ask for it. No need to be critical of those who help others.

  9. @Anonymous #1 - Although I doubt that was the film's main does come off that way.

    @Anonymous # 2 - Yes, society has made great strides towards equality over the years, and we should be looking foward not back. My issues are not with the Tuohy family themselves but the way that all the parties involved are presented in the film version of events. The Touhy family did a wonderful thing, no doubt about it. Yet, from a film stand point, the creators dumb down Big Mike more than was really needed to play up the melodrama. Both Big Mike and the Touhy family are equally important to the story, there would be no movie if the Touhy family had never met Big Mike and vice versa. Again my issue is with the film itself, not the Touhy family.

  10. I'm watching it now, and it just strikes me as ridiculously offensive and incredibly patronising. It isn't even the "well done, son" bit where the coach argues he's a "brave kid" for being black and daring to want "a quality education". The implication obviously being that everyone else at a similar disadvantage doesn't "want" to get out of it enough.

    I can't stand the patronising tone of scenes with the family, where they're clearly emphasising their wholesomeness just to make themselves feel better than this kid.

  11. @Darren - You make a great point about the patronising tone of the Touhy family at times. Even when they are trying to help they still come off as shallow.

  12. Anonymous10:28 pm

    Thanks for writing. I watched this film for the first time today and kept rolling my eyes.

    The main character came off as just a big puppy dog brought in from the rain.

  13. @Anonymous - Exactly! He comes off like a little puppy without a home, instead of an individual who overcame adversity and achieved success. This is supposed to be an inspiring story about Michael but everyone else in the film gets all the praise.

  14. I watched this movie last night. I thought it was, from a production standpoint, very well made. But, I couldn't help thinking the whole way through the movie, "I think this is racist." A lot us (white people) aren't completely sure what racism means exactly, but I kept looking at all the scenes of black people, and I had to conclude that all of you are crack smokin', gun totin', drug- pushin', 40-ounce malt beer drinkin', got no job humans. I can't believe they didn't show one of the people "back at the project" eating watermelon. How could they have missed that one! I wonder how we (white people) would have reacted to a movie where Big Mike was white and the white characters were all stereotypical white people. Maybe someone more creative than I am could blog this reverse storyline. I don't know enough of the white sterotypes ... serial-killin', beer-drinkin', sweater-wearin', nasally voice talkin'.... Anyway, I thought the movie was extremely racist.

  15. @Glenn – I think the film would have taken a different spin had Michael been white. He would have been the star and the family would be the supporting players.

  16. They dumbed him down in all respects, even the thing he's good at - football. In real life he was already a damn good football player when the family took him in, which makes the charges of opportunism ring a little louder.

    He said that the thing that bothered him the most about the way he was portrayed in the movie was that he was supposedly no good at football. In the movie he doesn't even know what a block is, as if he has never watched a football game in his life.

    This was a Sandra Bullock vehicle, through and through. Everyone else in the movie was just there to support her.

  17. Anonymous1:04 am

    Courtney, I know I'm responding to a very old blog post, and I have my doubts as to whether you or anyone else will even see my response. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to post it, as your post was both thoughtful and insightful, and I have a personal connection to the institution.

    It's clearly evident that the movie attempts to martyr the white, Republican family and the segregation academy that took Michael in. Yeah, that's right -- Segregation Academy. It's a well-known fact in Memphis.

    The hallowed halls of education Michael walked in were built exclusively for White children. To be more specific, they were built for White children from well-to-do families.

    I attended that school for eight years (both elementary and high school) and can testify that the administrators, teachers, parents, and students hated minorities almost universally. They also regularly prayed to God for football victories. Apparently God didn't come through for them, so I guess the next best thing is to get a big, talented, Black guy to serve as their "ace in the hole."

    Can you say pragmatic, cynical, lying, hypocrites? I hope so, because that's what lies at the foundation of Briarcrest. They can build all the new campuses and buildings they want, but they can't hide the ugliness of who they really are.

    Michael Oher deserves our admiration. So do the Tuohys. Too bad I can't say the same for Briarcrest.


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