In the United States of America, this holiday of gratitude is celebrated with copious amounts of turkey smothered in mashed potatoes and football on the television. Thanksgiving is also one of the biggest weekends for movie releases as families gather to share in the warm fuzzy feelings of togetherness. And in most family gatherings, the strongest personality gets the most talking time.
The Blind Side is one of those movies. Rushing onto screens across America on November 20, 2009, it became the highest grossing sports film ever. Based on the best-selling book The Blind Side: the Evolution of the Game by Michael Lewis, The Blind Side tells the rags to riches story of NFL left-tackle Michael Oher and the Tuohy family who helped him out along the way. America’s Sweetheart and Girl-Next-Door Sandra Bullock invoked the “Mama” spirit of Leigh Anne Tuoy and her performance won her an Oscar for Best Actress in 2010 as well as a Golden Globe. Overall, the perfect combination for warm holiday fuzzies–there is even a scene with a proper turkey dinner. Yet is this another case of the strongest personality winning the limelight.
But should it be?
Oher is a movie buff who enjoys everything from The Titanic to The Godfather, so why did he only reluctantly support a film about his life? Later in his NFL career, Oher expressed frustration and displeasure over the effect the adaptation has had on his career while being interviewed by espn.com in the pre-season of 2015.
“I’m not trying to prove anything. People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie. They don’t really see the skills and the kind of player I am. That’s why I get downgraded so much, because of something off the field.”
In addition to this resistance to the movie, Oher even published his own memoir, I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to the Blind Side, to counter the portrayal emblazoned on the minds of millions of Americans through Lewis’s book and the subsequent film. Yet The Bind Side remains a family favorite, especially around the holidays.
So, what gives? What is it about this particular adaptation that rubs Michael Oher the wrong way?
The film isn’t about him.
Adaptation is a funny thing. The creator who chooses to adapt the source material gets to select the lens, the perspective which drives the story. The Blind Side, when you think about it, is the story of the Tuohy family and how the act of dragging a “helpless” black kid from the gutter changes their white, evangelical, wealthy family. The film is from the perspective of the savior and not the saved which is why Leigh Anne Tuohy is the character who remains in the mind of viewers when the screen goes black. Lewis himself is an old classmate of Sean Touhy’s and understandably references much of the book from their perspective. Yet, the author accomplishes what the screen play does not: He captures the spirit of football and how men like Oher are changing the game. The film’s white-washed point of view may have made box office records, but it fails to capitalize on the real wonder of the Michael Oher story–Oher himself.
Even the Thanksgiving scene in the movie fails to show Oher’s interest in sports and highlights Touhy’s perspective.
Silence does not equal a lack of intelligence.
One of the most memorable stories from Lewis’s book is the moment Oher sees Michael Jordan on television for the first time in a neighbor’s home in 1993.
“The moment he saw Michael Jordan play basketball, Michael Oher knew who he was meant to be: the next Michael Jordan. Because he was seven, he thought it was an original idea. Because he was quiet, the idea went unexpressed, and so undisturbed.
But Michael Oher now had a secret ambition, and it would define much of what he did with himself for the next ten years. The ambition stood in defiance of a world that had assigned him no value.”
Because The Blind Side focuses on the Tuohy’s experience of helping Michael become a NFL sensation, it fails to capture the passion, intelligence, and drive already present in Oher. He played every sport he could growing up baseball, basketball, football… and continued returning to school on his own despite his need to find places to sleep and ways to eat. The Tuohy’s merely extended him the grace to express these talents. Yet Quinton Aaron’s portrayal of the athlete seems to lean closer to stupidity instead of quiet ambition. Thus, making the actions of the Tuohy’s in the film all that more wonderful on the silver screen.
The Blind Side is about Leigh Anne Tuohy, and Oher has come to grips with that.
Probably the most memborable scene in the movie focuses on Leigh Anne.
If you ask the Tuohy’s about the film The Blind Side, they will tell you it is pretty spot on except for one detail, “Leigh Anne is about three-times bossier in real life.” They say Oher has the wonderful gift of “forgetting” some of the details of his past, and this forgetfulness is a good thing considering his origins. When you consider the plot of The Blind Side, it is really Leigh Anne and the other Tuohy’s who change over the course of the narrative. Oher remains a guy trying his hardest to become the next Michael Jordan with a bit of a soft heart for people, but Leigh Anne changes from the woman concerned about her $10,000 couch to one who calls others to the spontaneous gift of generosity.
Since his second Super Bowl game, Oher has finally come to grips with the adaptation of his life. “It’s a great story,” he told USA Today. Even if The Blind Side may have had a blind spot for the heart of its protagonist and his passion for the game of football, it still breathes life to a beautiful story about a family who has been changed for good. Oher hopes his popularity will allow his memoir to reach 500,000 kids in foster care and remains thankful for his opportunity.
Sources: ESPN.com (http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/13100161/michael-oher-carolina-panthers-says-hit-movie-blind-side-hurt-career), The Blind Side: the Evolution of the Game (2006), The Blind Side (2009), USA Today (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2011-02-08-oher08_CV_N.htm).
Photos: Warner Brothers, USA Today