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The “Black” American Dream
How are one’s future and success influenced by one’s race? Michael Oher, a 6’ 4” African American male, came from a broken family of violence and substance abuse. He was passed into the foster care system at a young age, but routinely ran away and eventually built a life on the streets, sleeping couch to couch until he reached the age of 17. The mother of one particular friend, who Michael was living with at the time, pushed for both her son and Michael’s enrollment at Wingate Christian Academy and tryouts for the school’s football team. Michael was faced with resistance from the school, concern that his IQ score of 80 and low reading level would not meet standards of the private school. After being enrolled in classes, Michael wrote journal entries illustrating how isolated he felt amidst the white-washed walls and faces. Teachers at the school dismissed Michael, believing his poor test scores reflected no retention or effort to learn. Contrary to their assumptions, one teacher discovered that administering an oral exam yielded much higher results and that Michael was, in fact, listening and learning in class. All of the other teachers had pre-judged Michael, believing he was stupid and hopeless. Other students also separated themselves from Michael. However, Michael began to form a friendship with SJ Tuohy, a student, and son of the well-known Tuohy family.
Leigh Anne Tuohy, SJ’s mother, noticed Michael’s situation as he was going to the gym, which she knew was closed, and did not have a place to sleep. She welcomed Michael into her home and gave him a place to sleep. After spending several weeks on their family’s couch, Mrs. Tuohy asked Michael if he wanted to stay with them permanently. A room was made for him, furnished with his own bed, desk, and dresser. When it was finished, Michael said, “I’ve never had one before,” to which Mrs. Tuohy replied, “What, a room to yourself?” “A bed,” Michael replied. Michael eventually joined the high school football team and became a featured, highly-skilled player. He was recruited by many famous schools including the University of Tennessee, University of South Carolina, University of Alabama, and the University of Mississippi to name a few. He was offered full-ride scholarships to play football at all of the top universities and recognized for his academic achievement in high school. He went on to be drafted by the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League where his career concluded as a Carolina Panther.
The ideological perspectives in “The Blind Side” by John Lee Handcock are clear and evident in the movie. Michael Oher, an impoverished child who is one of twelve total children of a drug-addict mother and absent father, is “saved” and given an opportunity very few in the world today would even dream about. Michael was a child in the lower economic community living in a less than ideal housing complex in a less than desirable class. The Tuohy’s are the typical American family that checks off all the boxes – loving, caring mother Leigh Anne Tuohy, a well-off providing father Sean Tuohy, the All-American daughter everybody knows and loves Collins Tuohy, and the goofy, fun-loving video game playing son Sean “S.J” Tuohy. This movie, while very entertaining and a feel-good movie for all families, has its hidden flaws.
A constant theme in movies is that everybody is on an equal, level playing field. The success of one race over another (predominantly white over non-white) is the universal model that almost all storylines follow. “The Blind Side” and countless other movies continuously portray a white character’s success over a character of another race through a stronger work ethic, education, and/or sheer determination. In the book Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness, the authors Herman Vera and Andrew Gordon studied how the white main character is cast in various Hollywood movies throughout the last few centuries. White directors cast white protagonists to basically lead or save people of another color. Race is fictionalized and pictured in movies in a way that seemingly ignores reality to appeal to those who are blinded to their privilege. It does not highlight the current problems in society, and they ignore or deny the clear racial divide. Hollywood consistently portrays the ideal white American self as good-looking, powerful, brave, cordial, kind, firm, and generous (Ash, E. 2015) Leaving others as the complete opposite – not ideal, shy, hopeless, lesser, unworthy to help others.
Othering of race in this movie is quite predictable and accurately represents the world today, especially how different races are portrayed in the media constantly. The “dehumanization” starts with the luxury, grace, and elegance of the white characters portrayed in this movie. They truly showcase the power and luxury of being white in a predominately white country. While being black in the same city, separated by just a few miles, is depicted by characters who show struggle, pain, poverty, and even survival. The crack-addict mother and the ghetto housing project ironically named, “Hurt Village,” home to thugs who catcall white women and blast hip-hop music while having their women fetch their liquors from the kitchen, shows the true disconnect between the true white and black lifestyles in America (Anderson, 2016). Life with caring, compassionate, and generous white people gives Michael the opportunity to achieve the “American Dream,” become a role model instead of another name listed in the obituary and become a positive member of society. Thanks to the Tuohys, the sky’s the limit, but without them the limit is the sky (Chris Rock, 1999).
Intersectionality and the hurdles Michael faces in the movie are subtle but are potentially damaging. In “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh, she further discusses the idea of white privilege, describing it as, “an invisible package of unearned assets, an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions” (McIntosh 2014). The Tuohys make Michael’s decisions for him or influence his decisions, whether they know it or not. The Tuohys have molded Michael since the world he now lives in is different than what he is used to. He follows the example of those around him, which is the white family he has come to know throughout the course of his late teenage years. White privilege is often invisible to white people, so they are unaware that they possess this advantage, ultimately suppressing Michael and silencing him during most of the movie. This could suggest that black people have to be different than their true selves in order to succeed.
The relationship between the Tuohy family and Michael Oher misrepresents a very relevant stereotype highlighted in today’s society. The introduction of Michael into the Tuohy family is sparked as Leigh Anne Tuohy sees a young black man walking on the street at night by himself. She immediately recognizes him as one of the students attending her son’s school. She acts on an irresistible urge to intervene and ensure his safety and shelter for the night. This is an inarguably opposite response to that of the typical reaction of the white woman in present-day America. Countless, unsubstantiated legal allegations and claims of threat and endangerment, and frivolous calls to the police made by white women that populate the media support this claim. The majority of white families who spot a young black man walking alone in the dark would not dare to exit their vehicle to approach them, let alone invite them into their home night after night. The immediate trust Leigh Anne Tuohy has in Michael, in the sense of both not stealing things within their home at night and in the frequent interactions between Michael and the Tuohy’s son and daughter, is also atypical of white and black stigma. The relationship in this movie, although is based on the true story of Michael Oher, glorifies the white family and projects the black man as pitiful and needing of help or rescue. It tells the wretched history of Michael’s childhood and fragmented family while also projecting the Tuohy family to be of high-class, wealthy, and powerful. This aspect of the movie reinforces the stereotype that black individuals come from drug-corrupted, violent, poor homes, and white people are naturally wealthy, have the typical nuclear family, and are uninhibited by such things. This augments the perception that the black man needs help from the white man to be successful. According to the movie, Michael Oher had no future, no hope, no direction, but thanks to the Tuohy family, he received a solid education and was a recognized football player. In reality, black men and women are just as internally capable as white men and women of becoming successful. It is the institutionalized privilege of white people and the oppression of non-white people that creates the trending divide of success versus failure and normalization of the idea that white individuals are more accomplished and that black individuals need their help to achieve the same level of success.
The movie also was filmed in the eyes of a white director who wrote this movie from the viewpoint of the Tuohy family and not the eyes of Michael. Viewing the movie through their lens is potentially dangerous as it shows through the audience it was intended for: the white family. In the movie, it clearly shows the wide-ranging difference of whiteness and blackness and how each is viewed in the movie. Since in the movie the viewpoint if from the white women perspective in this sense it only reinforces the dangers of black communities and black people and does not highlight any good from the community or the people that live there. Also, in the movie looking through the potential of a highly coveted athlete would his opportunity to meet the Tuohys ever happened if he was not admitted to the school in the benefit of the white man’s sports programs?
So, what does this all mean? Is the Blind Side a terrible movie? No, it is not it is still a box office classic in the eyes of man black and white alike, but consumers have to dig deeper into the lens things are viewed in. The news media, social media, mediums like television shows and movies are all in the lens of those who hold the power and in America the ones that have the resources to generate power to “fix” meanings the most are of a one demographic. When that is the case other demographics are falsely represented or left out completely. The consumer of media should do their own research on social construction and how it represented in the world around them. Race is a social construction and what it means to those in power might not fully or accurately represent what a different race really is. People would hate to think that one race and more superior than another and it is maybe even harder for people to say it out loud but that does not make it non-existent. Whiteness and Blackness are held in different categories in a privilege standpoint, but television and film only show the world through one lens and comes with a conclusion. It is our job to find our own lens and discover the world around us for ourselves. If people can do that then they can truly have an unbiased view of the world around them.
- Anderson, M. (2016, April 02). The Blind Side: What Would Black People Do Without Nice White Folks? Retrieved November 12, 2018, from https://www.dallasobserver.com/ film/the-blind-side-what-would-black-people-do-without-nice-white-folks-6420117.
- Ash, E. (2015). Racial Discourse in “The Blind Side”: The Economics and Ideology Behind the White Savior Format. Studies in Popular Culture, 38(1), 85-103. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/44259586.
- Bonilla-Silva, E. (2010). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism & racial inequality in contemporary America (3rd ed.) Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.
- Giroux, H. A. (1997). Rewriting the discourse of racial identity: Toward a pedagogy and politics of whiteness. Education Review,67(2), 285-320.
- Goldberg, Michael Lewis. “Hegemony.” University of Washington, September 2001. Web. Genderspectrum.com.
- McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Amptoons.com. Amptoons.com, n.d. Web. 26 Jan 2014. Retrieved from www.amptoons.com/blog/files/ mcintosh.html.
- Appeah, Dela (2014). Sociological Perspective of the Blind Side. Essays24.com. Retrieved 04, 2016, from https://www.essays24.com/essay/Sociological-Perspective-of-the- Blind-Side/68136.html.
- Rock, C. (1999). Chris Rock Bigger and Blacker Script – Dialogue Transcript. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/c/chris-rock-
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