The film The Blind Side is the most recent sports-themed movie to hit the box office. The film tells the “true” story of Michael Oher, an overweight, black teenager with a tragic background who is taken in by a white, middle-class family, the Touhys, and makes it out of the projects and into the NFL.
The Blind Side’s reviews were mostly favorable. Rotten Tomatoes, a reputable movie review compilation site, included reviews that called the film , “incessantly positive because it's about good deeds and its ripple effects” and “potentially culturally offensive and overly schmaltzy, The Blind Side instead threads an almost impossible needle, pulling off a surprisingly moving and inspirational story of compassion, self-discovery and hope.”
Oher’s story as depicted by the film certainly is a touching one. However, aspects of the film are problematic, as critics have pointed out. Christopher Chambers, a guest columnist for the ColorLines blog, called the film “an obvious appeal to white guilt” and asserts that the Blind Side is simply the latest “feel good” film in which “white characters become immersed in and changed by loving blackfolk.”
Melissa Anderson, columnist for the Dallas Observer, makes a similar argument writing that the movie, “peddles the most insidious kind of racism, one in which whiteys are virtuous saviors, coming to the rescue of blacks who become superfluous in narratives that are supposed to be about them.”
These critiques can be taken even a step further. Movies like The Blind Side make an argument, although subtly, that existing institutions meant to help people in Oher’s situation are failures. They promote the idea that private acts of “good” are the only successful means to pull people by their bootstraps and out of poverty. The Blind Side includes scenes of the neighborhood where Oher comes from, a ghetto filled with drug dealers and the threat of violence, a mother who is a crackhead. Oher also has flashbacks of being taken from his mother by (assumedly) social services. A move that, at least according to the film, brought him nothing more than continued misfortune.
So who does save Oher? Well, a rich, white family with charitable hearts, a private (mostly-white) Christian school that gives Oher a chance, a university that gives him a scholarship, and finally the National Football League. Now that’s something whites, especially those who denounce public welfare and social services, can feel good about.