The Academy’s Blind spot
The Academy Awards expanded their Best Picture field to 10 films this year, a move that resulted in deserved recognition for quality pictures like An Education and A Serious Man that may have otherwise slipped through the cracks.
Unfortunately, one nominee—John Lee Hancock’s bench-worthy football tear-jerker The Blind Side—continues an Academy tradition that has been all too common in its 82-year history: the idealization of condescension.
The Blind Side is supposedly about the early days of Baltimore Ravens lineman Michael Oher, the African-American son of a crack addict who, with an assist from an affluent Memphis family, became an NFL star. Perversely, the star of Oher’s life story is Sandra Bullock. She’s “our eyes” into his world … our white eyes.
In real life, Oher became an NFL prospect through a combination of physical gifts, hard work and guts, and he had been playing organized football for several years before being taken in by the Tuohy family; in The Blind Side, Oher is a football newbie totally lost until Bullock explains the game in praise-Jesus homilies.
This is not to denigrate the real-life Tuohy family, because I’m sure they would admit that The Blind Side bears only a blurry resemblance to their life. The phrase “based on a true story” has been so abusively attached to works of filmed fiction, it should be changed to “based on certain proper nouns.”
But just as the desexed Superman Sidney Poitier was the only black face that Hollywood studios considered “palatable” to white audiences for several decades, The Blind Side works overtime to make Oher sexless, mute and utterly helpless without his white benefactors.
The filmmakers didn’t believe that audiences would consider a physically imposing black character to be “likable” otherwise, and that’s why The Blind Side fits into the Academy’s blind spot.