The Blind Side: What Would Black People Do Without Big-Hearted White People?

Another poor, massive, uneducated African-American teenager lumbers onto screens this month, two weeks after Precious and obviously timed as a pre-Thanksgiving-dinner lesson in the Golden Rule. But unlike the howling rage of Claireece Precious Jones, The Blind Side's Michael "Big Mike" Oher (Quinton Aaron) is mute, docile, and ever-grateful to the white folks who took him in. Directed by John Lee Hancock and based on a true story recounted in Michael Lewis' 2006 book of the same name, Blind Side the movie peddles the most insidious kind of racism, one in which whiteys are virtuous saviors, coming to the rescue of African-Americans who become superfluous in narratives that are supposed to be about them.

The steel magnolia who takes pity on homeless Big Mike after she sees him walking in the freezing rain in just a polo shirt and XXX-large denim shorts is Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), a frosted interior decorator, wife of Taco Bell franchise owner Sean (Tim McGraw), and mother of teenage cheerleader Collins (Lily Collins) and hyper half-pint S.J. (Jae Head, giving the year's most excruciatingly muggy performance by a child actor), who attend the same Christian academy that recently accepted the mountainous youth. An officious caretaker, Leigh Anne clears out the guest bedroom for Michael, earning the nervous praise of the Tennessee doyennes with whom she regularly lunches. Though they congratulate their friend's altruism, they're convinced Leigh Anne's new charge will either rob her Memphis McMansion or violate her daughter: "You're changing that boy's life," one applauds. Her response, of course: "No. He's changing mine."

In a way, Oher's story does change Bullock's life, giving her an awards-bait role filled with preachiness and thickly accented speech — "seriousness," after this year's rom-com humiliations The Proposal and All About Steve. But for all the supposed uplift, Bullock's facile Good Christian Materialist Southern Woman is part of The Blind Side's desperate cynicism, succinctly expressed in Sean's comment to his wife: "Michael's gift is his ability to forget."

Details

Written and directed by John Lee Hancock. Based on the book by Michael Lewis. Starring Quinton Aaron, Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Lily Collins, and Jae Head. Rated PG-13.

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Viewers, however, are constantly reminded of the pathologies the black gentle giant has escaped: the crack-addicted mother ("I can't even remember who the boy's father is," she weeps to Leigh Anne), the thugs of the country-ghetto housing project who offer him a 40-ouncer. Life with benevolent white people gives Michael the golden opportunity to partake in one of the most patronizing, we-are-the-world scenes imaginable: dueting with S.J. on "Bust a Move." S.J. becomes an unbearable martinet, bossing Michael around during drills for football practice, where the large lad shines as a left tackle at the Christian academy, eventually drafted to Ole Miss (and, as real-life footage of the actual Oher shows during the closing credits, later to the Baltimore Ravens). But Michael is unable to figure out what he actually needs to do on the field — until his white momma explains it to him: "This team is your family. You protect them."

In every scene, Oher is instructed, lectured, comforted, or petted like a big puppy; he is merely a cipher (Aaron has, at most, two pages of dialogue), the vehicle through which the kind-hearted but imperfect whites surrounding him are made saintlier. "Am I a good person?" Leigh Anne asks Sean non-rhetorically—as if every second in this film weren't devoted to canonizing her.

Michael is aggressively courted by SEC football coaches (many playing themselves, an unintentionally grotesque parade of bad orthodonture and worse-fitting suits), and, after an unpleasant run-in with an NCAA official toward the film's end, Leigh Anne soothes Michael by assuring him that "the past is gone, the world's a good place, and it's all gonna be okay." The filmmakers would like to lull you to sleep with this milk of amnesia, hiding behind the fact that this bewilderingly condescending movie is based on an actual person — but one who you end up knowing almost nothing about.

 
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7 comments
Brad
Brad

This is just a typical case of crabs in a bucket. You know why fishermen don't put a lid on a bucket full of crabs? Because when one tries to escape, the others grab him and pull him back down.

Dana
Dana

They should fire your ass for this garbage article! How dare you imply that this is a form of racism! Your poorly written article is pure trash. Yes, how dare that wealthy family take in a poor kid and give him a chance at a better life...I suppose you would be happier if Michael Oher had been left to die in that squalor he had been living in. Get real.

tiffany
tiffany

I can't believe that NEWTIMES published this. I'm going to put this on my blog page. Disgusting.

Kevin
Kevin

You tell 'em, Melissa! How dare those whiteys help that boy like they did and then have the nerve to have books and movies written about the experience. Why, I would never have known about this boy if not for the news articles about the movie, and then I read the book, and then I saw the movie and though "Gee! How can those white folks get away with this kind of crap? How dare they? They're only doin' it for themselves!"

In case you missed the sarcasm, Melissa, re-read my comment with a liberal dose of it applied. You lament the fact that people come away from the movie not knowing anything about Mike Oher. I never heard of him, until this movie came out. Know I have read the book and read every article I could find on the internet about his amazing story. Because of this movie, you see, I have learned more about Mike Oher than I never knew before. Because of your article about the movie, I've learned all I ever want to know about you... which isn't much to talk about at all.

Ryan Collins
Ryan Collins

Wow...what a horrible critique. You might want to look into another line of work. Have a nice day.

Sarah E. Galmarini
Sarah E. Galmarini

Melissa Anderson, shame on you for taking something with power to inspire social action for good and calling it bad. This film, which I did indeed watch, goaded me further toward unselfishness, and motivated me to affect a positive influence on less fortunate people at the mercy of their environments. I am white. Would you tell me not to help anyone who happens to be black because I might end up looking too heroic?

This movie exemplifies the power of Story. When an audience hears of one person doing unselfish good for another, it spreads that benevolent energy and moves people to perpetuate goodwill. Forget about who was white and who was black! The point of the story remains true regardless of which races are represented. If it had involved all blacks it would have been equally inspiring; the same is true if it had involved all whites, or Asians, or Middle Easterners, or any racial combination. One of the movie's most inspiring characteristics was that neither the Tuohys nor Michael Oher appeared to care about their respective races. No one in the movie theatre (including the African Americans present) seemed to be bothered either. I think the only one bothered by it is you. The point was not to notice who was what color. The whole point was that the races didn't matter!

You've used your self-righteous cynicism disguised as concern for social equality to wither something on the vine before it can even do the good it has the power to do.

Keep your destructive criticism to yourself, do your good and let other people do theirs without you spitting on it.

 

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