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Will the Upending of the ‘Blind Side’ Story Help Chill Hollywood’s ‘White Savior’ Complex?

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Too bad. I really wanted to believe “The Blind Side,” even though I knew it was sort of a fairy tale for grown-ups — or for kids who want to sound like grown-ups.

I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that a heartwarming story with the “BOATS” label — “based on a true story” — is Hollywood’s way of reassuring me that all is not rotten with the world.

“The Blind Side” is a 2009 Sandra Bullock movie that is based on a book by Michael Lewis, who explores changes in offensive football strategy since the early 1980s that gave new importance to the left tackle in protecting the quarterback’s vulnerable “blind side.”

The movie centers on a white family, the Tuohys, who take in Michael Oher (played by Quinton Aaron), a homeless and traumatized Black teen who later becomes an All-American football player for Ole Miss and later the Baltimore Ravens as a first-round pick.

Bullock won an Oscar for her role as Leigh Anne Tuohy in the Oscar-nominated movie, which follows the family through Oher’s years at a private Christian school, his purported adoption by the Touhys and his rise to become one of the most highly coveted prospects in college football.

But, in real life, it turns out, Oher and the Tuohys were not to live happily ever after with each other.

In a Tennessee court Monday, Oher, 37, claimed that this entire narrative was built on a lie. He was never fully adopted by the family that took him in, he said, and he charged that he was swindled into signing away his decision-making powers at age 18 so the family could make millions of dollars off his life story.

He seeks termination of the conservatorship that began when he was 18 and the money he should have earned from the movie, which generated more than $300 million at the worldwide box office, none of which he says came to him.

Sean Tuohy told the Daily Memphian on Monday that he was devastated to hear about the lawsuit and called “upsetting” any thought that he or his wife would “make money off any of our children.” He also expressed willingness to end the conservatorship and claimed that everyone in the family, including Oher, got an equal share from the movie, around $14,000.

Suddenly, the narrative of Oher’s life as we have known it swings from the football field to the courtroom in the sort of conservatorship dispute that turned Britney Spears from the “Princess of Pop” to hero of a #FreeBritney social movement and ultimately a symbol of conservatorship law reform and human rights.

Now we have Oher’s fight, which many will see as a revival of a criticism the movie has received as a classic example of the “white savior” narrative, a cinematic trope in which a whiter central character rescues nonwhite characters from some calamitous predicament that the characters of color could not quite overcome on their own.

 

Ever since “Mississippi Burning,” as one prominent example, we have seen the charge raised that Black people are being elbowed out of their own story. “Mississippi Burning” takes place during the height of the 1960s civil rights revolution but focuses on two white FBI agents who are searching for the three missing civil rights worker who we know have been murdered for trying to register Black voters.

The Hollywood establishment promised to do better in various ways, but, as we saw with the “#OscarsSoWhite campaign to diversify Academy Award nominations, that struggle for recognition and representation continues.

Even “Avatar,” another of my favorites, disappointed. The white main character in this sci-fi movie helps a fictional race of beings, but, alas, in the end, the nonhuman Na’vi, like so many other nonwhite movie characters, can’t save themselves without white support.

Of course, I’m not opposed to white actors or characters. I’d just like to see the sort of diversity that roughly reflects our cultural diversity and fully developed characters who reflect what we humans increasingly can see is real life — here and around the globe.

Nevertheless, I appreciated “The Blind Side” as a good family drama by some fine actors who I believe meant well. At least, I was reassured to find that, with all the social and political division we see in the news every day, movies about decent people trying to help a young person succeed, regardless of their color, still warm my heart.

I’m glad somebody still cares about love, sacrifice and decency in the world. Even when we seem to find it only on the silver screen, that’s better than nothing.

Still, we can do better.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

©2023 Clarence Page. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


(c) 2023 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.


 

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