'The Blind Side' Asks: What Would Black People Do Without Bighearted White People?

Was Blind But Now I See
What would black people do without bighearted 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 SideNs 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 LewisN 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 yearNs 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 friendNs altruism, theyNre convinced Leigh AnneNs new charge will either rob her Memphis McMansion or violate her daughter: “YouNre changing that boyNs life,” one applauds.

Her response, of course: “No. HeNs changing mine.”

In a way, OherNs story does change BullockNs life, giving her an awards-bait role filled with preachiness and thickly accented speecH N Mdash;“seriousness,” after this yearNs rom-com humiliations The Proposal and All About Steve. But for all the supposed uplift, BullockNs facile Good Christian Materialist Southern Woman is part of The Blind SideNs desperate cynicism, succinctly expressed in SeanNs comment to his wife: “MichaelNs gift is his ability to forget.”

Viewers, however, are constantly reminded of the pathologies the black gentle giant has escaped: the crack-addicted mother (“I canNt even remember who the boyNs father is,” she weeps to Leigh Anne) and 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 kindhearted-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 werenNt 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 filmNs end, Leigh Anne soothes Michael by assuring him that “the past is gone, the worldNs a good place, and itNs 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—one whom you end up knowing almost nothing about.

The Blind Side was written and directed by John Lee Hancock, based on the book by Michael Lewis; and stars Quinton Aaron, Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Lily Collins and Jae Head. Rated PG-13. Countywide.

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