The Blind Side
I didn’t intended to write a review of The Blind Side, but when my aunt responded to my Facebook status deriding the film’s racist indoctrination by saying my critiques were a figment of my liberal imagination, it all came flowing out.
The Blind Side is a version of (Black) NFL player Michael Oher's true life story of being taken in by a (White) Christian family in Memphis, TN during his final years of high school after ending up homeless. (How he ends up that way is never explained in the film.) The family cares for him and helps him graduate from high school, go to college on an athletic scholarship, and eventually play professional football. Meant to be a feel-good film, Oher’s story actually isn't told from the vantage point of Oher himself, but from the perspective of his surrogate mother. And this is where the misstepping begins.
When a creative work is made, it is necessarily imprinted with the not only the aesthetic lens of its creators, but their social, political, and personal ones as well. In The Blind Side’s case, this is especially important. The movie is based on a book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, written by Michael Lewis, who collaborated with director John Lee Hancock on the script. Both Lewis and Hancock are Southern, class privileged, and White, and this standpoint is heavily felt throughout the film. Though not always a recipe for cinematic disaster, the choice to center a White, upper class point of view dooms The Blind Side from the jump.
Every person of color in this film is a stereotype and, with the exception of Oher (played by Quinton Aaron), a villain: Oher's crack addicted mother; the 40-drinking, gun-toting thugs in the Hurt Village projects; the storeowner who makes fun of Oher's height and weight; the immasculated caregiver who folds to his selfish wife's demands to give Oher the boot. Oher himself is depicted as a mentally slow, physically intimidating, overly protective Black boy (a la King Kong) whose simpleminded thoughts on most things are either silenced or overtaken by whatever the White lead, Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), thinks about things. This is so much the case that Oher begins parroting her toward the end.
The Tuohy family, who takes Oher in, is also shown as a stereotype: benevolent White saviors who shower Oher with money and materialism in order to 'fix' his problems (as they perceive them, of course). They use their wealth to buy their way out of everything; however, in reality one doesn't overcome sixteen years of abuse and trauma just because you give him his first proper bed and a shiny, new pickup truck. Any time a traumatic issue comes up, the film shows Leigh Ann's hurt (not Oher's) and quickly cuts to a new scene without lingering on questions about the causes or effects of Oher's suffering.
When the suggestion of Oher’s going to therapy does come up, the flippant response is “he just wants to forget it,” which should make any mental health professional choke on their popcorn. We are shaped by our pasts from the ground up (why do you think Oher was mostly mute and intellectually stunted in the first place?), and we don't just forget our personal histories and move on to the next scene—unless you're a filmmaker who doesn't place importance on such things or prefers to put the focus on how knowledge of Oher's past effects Bullock's character (the person the audience is encouraged to identify with) rather than Oher himself (who is simply a vehicle for the back-patting, ‘White people are good’ plot).
The times we see racism enacted, mentioned, or alluded to, it is swept aside with little explanation. For example, the myth of the black rapist (though not so straightforwardly named) is brushed aside with a simplistic “shame on you,” and the myth of the welfare queen isn't even acknowledged enough to be given the courtesy of dismissal. On the contrary, it's reinforced. Both just lie there, unaddressed, like so many other things in this film. (At one point, Oher’s surrogate father jokingly says, “he thinks he’s a redneck,” with no hint of irony given that the term is typically applied to racist Whites.) The overt racism that is addressed receives only pat responses, like name-calling and an underplaying (e.g., the deliverance dad and the discriminatory ref) of their sustained importance on the life of a young man of color.
The Tuohy family supposedly looks past race—except that they conspicuously have no friends of color in a city that is only a third White and apparently have little knowledge of the poverty that is destroying people's lives just a few miles away from their posh mansion and private Christian school. They live in a safe bubble of White, upper class ignorance that absolves them of any need to know about such an untidy reality—and they're still living there at the end of the film.
The fact that racism’s pervasiveness in American society shields it from being recognized by many people, like my aunt, who sat through a viewing of The Blind Side (or is that the titular reference?) is all the more disturbing in its ‘white is right’ programming. If I believed the film was supposed to be calling attention to the way racism functions in America (like Precious, for example), instead of further diminishing its presence and impact, I could get down with the idea that art is simply imitating life. But it doesn't unmask racism in America; instead, it works to further conceal it.
Good intentions are just one side of the story, folks. Although The Blind Side is rife with those, its failure to deliver a complex look at Oher’s side of the story, ultimately, reinforces the exact system it intends to disassemble.