Here in the UK, “The Blind Side” (the ‘feel good’ sports-type movie with Oscar winner Sandra Bullock) is being released in the same week as “In the Land of the Free” (a documentary about the Alabama 3, the continuing slavery which operates in the US prison system and the institutionalised racism which saw them confined to solitary for over 30 YEARS SO FAR).
That seems to me as good a reason as any to reflect on the horrific casual racism that underlies “The Blind Side”.
First-off the bat though (do you like how I got a sporting metaphor in there?) I want to say that I know “The Blind Side” is based on real events, and that Michael Oher came from a troubled background and was taken in by white Christians who ‘bettered’ him and helped him become a sports star. I am also not arguing against charity, or even against some of the virtues espoused by Christianity.
However, there are a huge number of things in this film that belie an innate racism and ridiculously unwavering belief that Jesus wants the status quo to continue.
My first beef with this bilge is why, when they make the clear point early on that Michael has a skill in poetry, a protective instinct and great verbal reasoning skills, would they keep goading him to play football when he clearly deplores violence? The kid was doing terribly in school, scoring badly in all tests and frustrating just about every teacher, yet he writes a poem to express his frustration. Instead of reacting by encouraging his poetic genius, this white, Christian school thinks: he MAYBE we can TEACH him!
It just doesn’t come more patronising than that. Worse still they thought, ‘hey, he’s run from horror all his life, let’s stick him on a field and make him fight for our amusement!’ There was no way anyone could anticipate the fame and fortune of the NFL at this stage, especially as he could barely play at the start, so clearly this school group just saw football as a way to keep the negro inside and teach him to be ‘civilised’… Except on the football field of course, there he can still be a savage.
My second beef is the constant referencing of God and Jesus saving this kid. What the hell is that all about?! Even if we did accept that he was being saved by receiving this education and football training (I accept at least that it’s better than life on the streets) nobody saved him except that ballsy black mechanic at the start who somehow bartered him a place in the fancy school. Yet this guy is never mentioned again in the entire film. Way to steal the credit Jesus.
Before I even get on to the painfully manipulative way this film was shot, I have one more thematic axe to grind: all the poor attempts to hide racism with pathetic knowing nods to ‘what white people really think’ (the night after Michael first stays: ‘If you hear a scream, call the insurance company’) and attempts to put the ‘bad white people down’ for their nasty assumptions (look out for the hilarious restaurant scene with Sandra B and her snooty friends) simply serve to normalise such behaviour.
Those idiots watching who genuinely think those things will feel legitimised because others feel the same, and could easily dismiss the choices made by Sandra Bullock and her family (as opposed to the Tuohy’s) as Christian propaganda hurled glossily onto the big screen. The reason, according to “The Blind Side”, that we should work to save black people in poverty is because it’s the ‘Christian’ thing to do. I won’t even begin to discuss what is wrong with that idea, but suffice to say that praising Christian charity as a reason for engaging with other ethnic groups is not sufficient justification for such careless casual racism.
And now we get to the crux of it: everything about the sentimental score of this film, the ‘meaningful’ close-ups and the sanctimonious set-pieces all make us feel like we should follow this shining example. And that’s a good thing, right? Well, yes, but only if you think that the only poor people who deserve the help of the affluent classes are those quiet, sporting black people who somehow have the strength to shun the painful vices of the ghettos and make most of the escape under their own steam. Oh, and, of course, if you don’t let them choose a career path themselves. They can choose a college, that’s OK, but not a career path… or, God forbid, a religion.
One final piece of food for thought which I want to add is this: how many black people do you see outside the ghetto in this film? The answer is just a few. And how many are in good jobs? Just one, the one who questions Michael about the University, and she was a bitch. So please, when you watch this, question its constant praising of Christian charity, question its biased portrayal of the black community, and question its missionary ethic which assumes that everyone in the ghetto is a soul which must be converted to the ‘right’ way of life.
So sing it together with me my brothers, thank the Lawd for he created the white man that he might teach them po’ negroes the value of good Christian chariddy, and praise his name that them white folks love they sport so that we got somethin’ useful to do with our selves other than robbin’ an’ takin’ them there bad drugs an such.
“The Blind Side” opens in the U.K. today.
This article was first posted on March 26, 2010