I watched Sandra Bullock’s tour de force performance in 2009’s The Blind Side for the first time the other night. The movie engaging, if a bit clichéd, but also reprises the idea of the white savior hidden behind the safety of biography.
If you missed The Blind Side, it tells the story of now twenty-five-year-old Baltimore Orioles player, Michael Oher, as he battles the mean streets of Memphis. With the help of a friend’s father, he is enrolled in a private Christian school because the football coach sees potential in him. The friend’s father eventually kicks Michael out of his house, forcing Michael to live in a Laundromat.
One night, as he’s wandering in the cold to the school gym, Michael’s classmate, SJ, and his family drive by. SJ’s headstrong mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock), invites Michael back to stay at their place instead, much to father, Sean’s (played surprisingly well by country music star, Tim McGraw) and sister, Collins’ bewilderment.
The night turns into months, and months turn into a permanent legal guardian, son-and-parents relationship between Michael and the Tuohys. Michael becomes a football star at Ole Miss, his parents’ alma mater.
It’s difficult to critique a movie which is biographical because it’s unclear which parts are added to the movie for cinematographic effect. However, in a self-described semi-biographical movie, certain care should be taken to diminish problems. After all, cinema needs to stand up to another set of expectations than life does, although they certainly influence each other.
First, the movie does not include a single sympathetic black character, despite many portrayals of blacks. First, Michael’s mother and father were deadbeats, as were the black members of the community where they lived. They gave Michael’s mother a fleeting attempt to gain sympathy, but in the end, no one cared that Michael started calling Mrs. Tuohy mama, despite the fact that his own troubled mother still lived. Even the NCAA’s black female lawyer tried to ruin Michael’s newfound happiness with her claim that the Tuohy’s took Michael in to get him to play for his alma mater.
In contrast, the Tuohys were heroic saviors. Despite their extreme wealth and laziness, they were called to help others, apparently. It was a classic case of telling, and not showing, as was Leanne Tuohy’s statement that Michael had helped her change her ways. Maybe that would have been different, too, if we’d seen how Michael himself had changed her. As it was, we just got to see how he changed her stance on black people.