Popular Culture Project – “The Blind Side”
The Blind Side, an Oscar winning movie, is based on a young black man named Michael Oher who was born to a single black woman who struggled with drug addiction, poverty, and promiscuity. He was taken from his mother on multiple occasions and placed into foster care but always ran away from the foster homes to return to his mother. He was temporarily taken in by another black family for a period of time. The man in this family, because of a promise he made to his sister, arranged for his nephew and Michael Oher to be educated in a white upper class Christian school. Due to family conflicts, Michael was kicked out on the street and forced to sleep and reside any place he could find. Leigh Anne Tuohy, a wealthy white woman whose children attended the same school as Michael, saw him wandering the streets. She decided to step in and temporarily provide shelter. Even though she had to confront her stereotypical fears and racial bias background, she found it in her heart to invite him to be a part of their family.
The movie, which opens with depictions of social constructs of lower income African Americans with scenes of the stereotypical ghetto, sets up this hegemonic notion that most people who grow up in this situation will remain there. In the beginning of this movie, a black gentleman tries to break the cycle of poverty over his nephew and Michael by getting them accepted into a fine white Christian school. In one scene, drug use and violence continue to feed the idea that blacks should be feared and even separated from the rest of society, thus maintaining the ghetto culture and circle of poverty. On at least three other different occasions, the movie returns to the ghetto area scene which always depicts poor, black, uneducated people to be threatening to any outsider who tries to invade their boarder.
When Mrs. Tuohy sought Michael’s mother’s permission to make him a part of the Tuohy family, the scene depicted a single black mother with many struggles. Their encounter began with Michael’s mother nervously asking Leigh Anne who she was and if she was a social worker. The place where his mother lived was unclean and dark. In this scene, Michael’s mother was confused about the identity of Michael’s biological father which tells of someone who has had many relationships. This could be an issue with anyone in any race; however, the movie mostly depicts this among black families. The scene ended when Mrs. Tuohy went over to the couch and displayed concern for Michael’s mother who was upset and embarrassed because of the information she was unable to give about her own son.
In another scene, when Michael went back home to try and get some of his clothing and other items, the media again depicted the stereotypical view of the ghetto and poor black culture. Michael instructed Mrs. Tuohy to “lock the door” and to not get out of the car. She followed his instructions and tried to avoid eye contact with anyone in the area who was staring at her. Michael discovered that his mother had moved again and his belongings were gone. Later on in the movie when Michael was missing, Mrs. Tuohy returned to this same neighborhood to look for him. Her fears were set aside this time because of her concern for Michael. She even verbally confronted a man who looked like a leader in the local social scene and won the altercation.
There were a number of situations that attempted to keep Michael in the cycle of poverty and away from improving his life. The administration and faculty at the private school were hesitant to let Michael in because of his poor past academic performance. One would wonder if they were also against accepting him because of his past. After being convinced to accept him because of the Christian mission statement of the school, the teachers struggled to figure out how to overcome his learning deficiencies. At first, the science teacher seemed to be the only faculty member to reach out and design an alternative educational plan for Michael. The other staff members just seemed to want to complain about how he was unable to keep up with the rest of the students. After many attempts of the science teacher to reach out to him, Michael finally began to respond and his grades and attitude about education improved. After hearing about his successes with the science teacher, other teachers slowly began to reach out and design individual education plans for Michael. The last teacher to look at Michael positively was a white male teacher, who was completely against him being at the school. He was responsible for assigning the final grade which allowed Michael to enter college and play football. Through much assistance from the teachers and the tutoring provided by the Tuohy family, his educational experience totally turned around.
Another situation that attempted to keep Michael bound by his past comes when he is questioned by the college attorney. This attorney was investigating the Touhy’s association with Olde Miss College and their generous support of the school. She told Michael that the Tuohys were only being nice to him because they wanted to use him to help their alma mater’s football team succeed. This upset Michael so much that it caused him to run away from Leigh Anne and return to his former environment. He quickly learned that he no longer fit within those boarders. A fight even broke out when a person from Michael’s past accused him of inappropriate behavior with the Touhy family women. I wonder if this pattern of behavior is typical of an individual who tries to leave this hegemonic type of environment but because of failure feels he needs to return to the familiar place for safety, thus continuing in the cycle of poverty.
In my opinion, the characters who have the dominant roles in the movie are women. When Leigh Anne Tuohy, one of the main characters, was introduced in the movie, she came in wearing a white business suite and blond hair while discussing business on her cell phone. This depicted her as a self assured, confident woman who ran her own business. She also seemed to take the lead role in her family during a number of scenes in the movie. She was the one who made most of the decisions. There were moments where she solicited her husband’s advice on adopting Michael, but they both realized that she would probably make the final decision. She was almost always seen as fearless and in command in every situation. Her domineering personality was also seen with the football coach and how he should have properly encouraged Michael to play his football position. The movie showed an interesting power struggle between Leigh Anne and the football coach. Leigh Anne had previously learned in a conference with a school official that Michael’s biggest strength was his protective instincts. Leigh Anne thought this information should have been used to instruct him in his football position so she explained to Michael about how to view his teammates like his family members and protect them like he would his family. This turned Michael’s problematic introduction to playing high school football into a highly successful understanding of his role as not only a protector but a line backer.
Leigh Anne was a strong member of society as well as a successful business woman. She was involved with charities and has taken on many community projects. The meeting she had with her female friends made reference to her philanthropy. In this scene, they were in an upscale restaurant having lunch. Leigh Anne asked the ladies if they had ever been to a particular part of Memphis. They responded that they had never gone intentionally because it would have been outside of their border. The women thought that she wanted to do some kind of charity act and told her they would be glad to contribute money. Jumping to this conclusion revealed their well-intentioned but racist views of how to meet the needs of people in this area by only involving themselves monetarily. Leigh Anne’s friends discussed the fact that she had taken Michael into her family and thought it was a great and charitable thing she had done. When Leigh Anne expressed interest in adopting Michael one lady asked if that had to do with “white guilt” and asked her what her daddy would say. This attitude alluded to dominative racism. Leigh Anne quickly responded with irritation and stated that Michael was doing as much for her and her life as she was for him. Yet again, another one of the ladies brought up the stereotypical fear of having a large black man in the house with a beautiful young teenaged daughter. Leigh Anne quickly responded to their racial comments by leaving the luncheon. This act supported her belief in Michael and what she was doing to make him a part of her family. I believe Leigh Anne’s views of race would line up with those discussed in the “What Is Multiculturalism” article in the section that described liberal multiculturalism. I don’t believe she viewed Michael as being black after getting to know him. Liberal Multiculturalism is a view of working towards a one race system, the human race. I believe this is what Leigh Anne Tuohy believed. This article goes on to discuss how liberal multiculturalism was addressed in the media in the 1980’s, specifically with the Cosby Show, and how emphasis was taken off of racial issues and placed more on moral and ethical values. In Leigh Anne Tuohy’s case the situation had nothing to do with helping out a poor black person and more about taking care of a young man who had no where to go and no family to lean on.(p.11)
I don’t believe Mrs. Tuohy viewed herself as a superior individual helping an inferior person. I believe her motives started out with a simple desire to help a person in need. She truly wanted to help an unfortunate young man change the cycle of poverty in which he grew up. A conflict of ideologies resided within Leigh Anne in the beginning of the movie. She grew up in a typical southern family with possible racist views of the black culture. By the end of the movie, she had a color blind view of Michael as a part of her family. She understood that Michael was an exemplary human being that had been born into unfortunate circumstances. She became the model for many individuals who have the means and ability to make a difference in someone’s life without allowing race issues to stand in the way. The maternal love she developed over time gave an example of overcoming racial divides and accepting people as they are.
Another example of a powerful female role in this move was the science teacher. In the beginning of this movie, Michael entered her classroom. She gave him a seat in the middle of the room and continued with class. Individual students responded to him in interesting ways. The white female in front of him turned around to hand him a paper and had a look of distrust and uncertainty. At the end of class when all of the other students were gone, Michael asked if he could be dismissed, something that he thought he was expected to do. When he got up to leave the room, the teacher reminded him to take his book, which lead the audience to believe that in his past, he was never given a textbook of his own to study. This was the first time a teacher had reached out to him. The science teacher also noticed that he had not filled anything out on the quiz, but he had drawn a picture. She later found a writing of his where he described himself as all alone and unnoticed. In the scene in the teacher’s lounge, she brought up Michael to the other staff members, who only proceeded to complain about what he couldn’t do. She then reveals the writing sample that she found. The male teacher in the room asked about Michael’s spelling and completely missed the message in the writing because he was concerned about more superficial things. The science teacher proceeded to show the others the success Michael was having in her class due to the alternative assessment tools she had implemented. She gave him verbal assessments and which showed that he successfully understood the material. Other female teachers then began to follow this example, and noticed improvement as well. The male teacher continued his rigid class routine and required Michael to complete the same work as the other students without any modifications. In the end, Michael even surpassed the male teacher’s expectations when he earned a high score on his final exam essay.
Michael’s tutor is the next example of a female power source in his life. Ms. Sue constantly pushed him beyond what he thought were his own limitations. She was employed by the Tuohys to help Michael accomplish a specific grade point average to qualify for a college football program. This scene emphasized the fact that if individuals who have specific learning needs are given the proper tools, they too can succeed. The tutor/student relationship that developed between Michael and Ms. Sue continued even when Michael went to college. The Tuohy family provided all they did for Michael because they looked at him in the color blind viewpoint as described in the Kincheloe & Steinberg article. This liberal multiculturalistic view sees only one race. I believe this was the case with Ms. Sue and the Tuohy family.
There were two negative female influences in Michael’s life. The first one was his mother. She was a single black mother who lived in the ghetto with substance abuse issues. She was also very promiscuous. She was the typical example of a welfare mother who had little hope for a future. When Leigh Anne began the process of adopting Michael she first had to discover his real last name. A police officer in the movie described Michael’s mother as one who constantly moved from place to place. She seemed very embarrassed when Leigh Anne questioned her about Michael and her past. She didn’t have all the answers. She was unable to recall specific details about her son or even who fathered him. She finally remembered after she gave it some thought but was embarrassed by the fact that it had taken her so long to correctly recall her past. The last the audience saw of this woman in the movie was as Leigh Anne Tuohy consoled her about her troubled life.
The other female who had a negative power role in the movie was the black attorney for the NCAA. She was investigating the Tuohy’s role in Michael’s choice of a college. She was depicted as someone who did not care about Michael as a person and was only there to find out information about the Touhys’ desire to have Michael go to their alma mater, Olde Miss. Although the Tuohys would have been supportive of him going to any college, the attorney depicted them as manipulative and deceitful, using Michael only to help their favorite college football team.
In conclusion, I believe the media’s depiction of racial inequality in this movie was not necessarily purposeful. I understand that this was based on a true story. Whether the film maker twisted some situations to paint certain groups in a certain way is unknown, as is the look of Michael’s first home. Was it really that stereotypical of a ghetto? We would not know unless we actually visited the place. It seems to me that the frequent depiction of ghetto areas can cause social anxiety for those who may want to reach out and help. Leigh Anne Tuohy was an example of how to confront fears associated with that environment and how different help groups should approach making a change in areas of poverty.
The movie depicts Leigh Anne’s circle of friends as racially bias. They were characterized in the movie as upper class white ladies who supported the idea of helping the poor from a distance but did not want to necessarily have contact with them. They may have wanted to keep their class superiority in tact, or might have a fear of the unknown.
There were also racial and class bias with the teachers at Michael’s school. I believe that the majority opinion was that it would be easier to teach children of similar class background than to take an outsider in and change the established boarder. Other than the successes of Michael in his education and his football career, black people were overall depicted in a negative light with few exceptions. I can see how African American audiences would be offended by the racial depictions and the social representation of the white family compared to the black one.
I believe the story of Michael Oher is one that can inspire all people to reach out and help those in need if one can move past the racial bias depicted in the movie. Like the Tuohy’s, many citizens could do more to help young people who cannot help themselves. What would happen if each middle class to wealthy family regardless of race extended themselves to change a life by overcoming racial fears and concentrating instead on making life better for everyone? What would be the effect on our nation’s crime rate, homelessness, and poverty? I believe more effort and attention should be given to stories like Michael Oher’s. Perhaps then more hearts would be inspired to reach out and change things. This story should also be an example to inspire change in our governmental systems concerning education and foster care. These governmental departments were systemic failures in Michael Oher’s case. Although changes in these areas would be difficult, most things of value are changed through hard work and perseverance.
Joe Kincheloe & Shirley Steinberg, “What is Multiculturalism?” in their book, Changing Multiculturalism. P. 11 Bree Picower, “The unexamined Whiteness of teaching: how White teachers maintain and enact dominate racial ideologies.” Race, Ehtnicity & Education, July 2009 Vol. 12 Issue 2, p. 197-215
John Lee Hancock, The Blind Side (2009) Movie