It is easy to look back at the world in 2009 and believe things were much simpler. The United States had just elected its first Black President in Barack Obama, his hope-laced rhetoric brought an air of optimism that was sorely missing in a country on the verge of economic collapse. This feeling was delusional on the surface, but truthful in the depths if you are willing to examine it. The country felt as if it had finally lived up to the ideals it claimed to espouse in its founding. All men are created equal.
I vividly remember watching Obama’s inauguration, the joyous atmosphere of my house and the crunching sounds of my Aunt reloading her disposable camera. I remember how gorgeous I thought the color of Barack’s scarf was. I also remember the feeling that huddled in my stomach like rain clouds, I was certain I’d watch this man be shot.
What I didn’t realize, at that time, was that constraints were being built around the ways Black people could and “should” engage with the reality of our oppression. Many in the media declared that with the election of Barack Obama, America entered into a new Post Racial chapter in its long and bloodied history. This was more than a lie, it was a myth. The difference being, unlike a lie, a myth is defined by those who believe it. To challenge the reality that had been constructed around the Post Racial Myth meant having to face the actual material conditions of the Black people of this country, something most in positions of power were not willing or eager to do.
The fragility of the American consciousness of the time required a stifling of Black thought. Stomp too loudly in a particular direction and you’d be back out among the others in the cold. This allegiance to the Post Racial Myth was supported not only in the media at the time, but in the arts as well. It is this hazy, rose colored, mirage of a world that gave birth to The Blind Side.
The film is a retelling of the story of Michael Oher, which was believed to be true at the time. A young, homeless Black kid, after being taken in by an affluent white family named the Tuohys, finds success playing football at their private Christian high school and goes on to be drafted in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
For many in this nation, this story confirmed the notion that America had decisively progressed beyond its historical scars. Regrettably, for those of that perspective, neglected wounds worsen. With recent revelations regarding the actual nature of the relationship between Oher and the Tuohys—marked by allegations of unpaid exploitation—it becomes challenging to envision a period when such sentiments held weight. It is now more important than ever to examine this movie and see what aspects made it so popular at the time and why its rhetorical devices lend itself to myth making.
To start, despite this film ostensibly being the “Michael Oher Story,” it’s clear that Oher isn’t the main character. His journey is experienced through a muddled white lens. In the film, as Oher spots his estranged brother working at a restaurant where he and the Tuohys are dining, we, the audience, encounter this scene not intimately, but as observers, mirroring the Tuohys’. The viewpoint that the film had might’ve been illustrating the limited knowledge the Tuohys had about Michael; nonetheless, this approach still places their vantage point as paramount in a situation that should inherently hold emotional weight for Michael.
His experience has to be filtered enough to be digestible to the white audience and his portrayal must be docile to the point of absurdity, so that the audience can ascribe their own aspirations onto him and see some semblance of his humanity. Understand, the problem here isn’t Oher’s gentleness. The issue is the realization that if at any time, he became even the least bit irritated or frustrated, that care and consideration for his well being would evaporate.
A moment such as this reveals that the film’s intended perspective is not that of the struggling Black kid adjusting to a new life, but rather the idealized musings of someone with far fewer stakes than Michael. It is in this instance that we perceive through the lens of the movie’s actual main character, Leigh-Anne Tuohy, the wisecracking, gun-toting matriarch of the Tuohy family.
Leigh-Anne serves as the audience’s personal white guilt deflection mechanism. When Michael first agrees to stay with the Tuhoys, he is moved from the couch to a proper bedroom. As he and Leigh-Anne are tidying the room Michael makes a remark about never having one of “these” before.
When Leigh-Anne interjects to inquire whether he’s referring to his own bedroom, he clarifies that he meant a bed. Startled, Leigh-Anne exits the room, and the camera follows, leaving Michael in a state of confusion. We stay with Leigh-Anne as she grapples with the empathetic distress of receiving this information secondhand, rather than directing any attention to Oher, the person who actually endured it.
The film appears to persuade itself that what we are witnessing isn’t horrifying. It resembles those occasional local news stories where children are seen attempting to sell lemonade to fund significant medical procedures. Perhaps it aims to highlight the goodness in humanity, but my perspective discerns the condition of a nation that permits its children to mature under such circumstances in the first place.
The film resides in a pseudo-reality, where material circumstances are not considered, primarily due to the fact that the individual through whose perspective we engage with the film lacks an understanding of those conditions. This absence isn’t a design flaw; rather, it constitutes the intentional design itself. The film aims to redirect the racial realities of this country away from the broader systemic issues and emphasizing instead individual acts of hatred or kindness.
While there are films like Dangerous Minds (1995) or Radio (2003) that also are often seen as a way to promote a promised idealized harmony amongst races, The Blind Side differentiates itself by aligning its release with the broader societal push towards the mythical post-racial concept in America. The film’s true insidiousness in propagating this myth lies in the fact that the post-racial concept doesn’t intend to decouple Oher from his Black identity. Rather, the film keenly acknowledges Oher’s race and sees it as something to overcome more than anything else. The real objective is to distance Oher from reality. This intent is crystallized in the film’s closing sentiment, as it presents images of young Black men, all of whom met premature deaths, assuming some athletic talents based on Leigh-Anne’s monologue.
The goal is to make Blackness an endurance test until it has the ability to be profitable. This makes the final scene seem like it’s saying “look at all these young men who could have entertained you, they died before they had the chance to, isn’t it sad?”
This is the mindset the myth creates. Instead of asking larger questions, the myth demands that we focus on the immediate with no consideration of what has come before to bring us to the current. Even towards the end of the film Michael says “the past is gone, the world is a new place and everything is going to be okay.” This myth exists for one reason only, in the words of James Baldwin, its “assurance that no crime has been committed.” The true conceit of the Post Racial Myth is one that has been exemplified time and time again in the years since the release of this film. For Black people, our humanity is earned and even then it is ripe for exploitation.