The Blind Side

I have not seen this movie but after reading a critique of it in Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility, I won’t watch it.  Sandra Bullock won an Academy Award for her performance.  The Blind Side is a movie based on the true story of a Memphis family, the Tuohys, who take in a poor homeless black boy.

Sandra Bullock plays the surrogate guardian of Michael Oher, a real-life African American pro-football player for the Baltimore Ravens who escaped homelessness and found success playing in college.  It is a “white savior” movie.  Some critics are torn by its depiction of race. Many critics are drawing comparisons to “Precious,” a controversial film that explores the struggle of an obese, abused African-American girl. Opinions on “The Blind Side” are similarly mixed.

The film has been accused of pacifying Oher, molding him into an unrealistically noble and non-threatening “black saint.”  In the movie, Oher takes on the trappings of a stereotype that emerged in the 1950s (when white, liberal filmmakers sought to change negative perceptions of African Americans). Ultimately that take is a patronizing one.  He is never angry and shuns violence except when necessary to protect the white family that adopted him or the white quarterback he was taught to think of as his brother. In other words, Michael Oher is the perfect black man.

“Our films are loud, overbearing and ultra-violent or they are uncomplicated, heart-wrenchers, which jerk at tears in a manner which they have not earned,” judged Ta-Nehisi Coates.  There are few black people shown in that middle space, in that more human world between the extremes, he concluded.

The kindest assessment is that The Blind Side uses a double metaphor – alluding to both a football player’s vulnerability and racial color blindness – to dramatize how people can overcome race and class barriers to achieve their fuller humanity.

I believe DiAngelo’s criticism was the dis-empowered way Oher is presented as though only this white woman could save him.  I really can’t judge the Tuohys.  Michael Oher, the NFL player who was portrayed in the 2009 drama, told reporters he feels that the film has negatively impacted his athletic career by putting extra scrutiny on him.

“I’m not trying to prove anything,” Oher said. “People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie. They don’t really see the skills and the kind of player I am. That’s why I get downgraded so much, because of something off the field.  This stuff, calling me a bust, people saying if I can play or not … that has nothing to do with football.  It’s something else off the field. That’s why I don’t like that movie.”   At a media event just prior to Oher’s 2012 Super Bowl win with the Baltimore Ravens, he told reporters that he was “tired” of being asked about The Blind Side.

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