THE BLIND SIDE (2009)
Yesterday, March 19th, the Curse of the Oscar struck again. Sandra Bullock won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Actress for her role in The Blind Side a few weeks ago. Not even a month had passed when we learned that her husband, Jesse James (his real name), had been having an affair, or had once had an affair, with a tattoo model, with a lot of curvy drawings covering her body. Recent Oscar winners whose husbands departed shortly after they won “Best Actress” include Julia Roberts, Hiliary Swank, Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry, Kate Winslet, and now Sandra Bullock. According to the sympathetic commentary on MSNBC, the divorce rate for these actresses is similar to the nationwide divorce rate for regular women. But I think we could as a better question: how many men who won an Oscar found out that their wives were cheating on them within a year of their receiving the award? The mind goes blank.
I do not watch the Oscar show; it is too long and too boring, however, I did tune in just when Bullock was giving her acceptance speech in which she thanked her mother and her husband. The next day, I watched Joan Rivers and her sidekicks, including one of the Kardashians, rate the Oscar outfits. Bullock won “best-dressed,” but what I noticed was the footage of her entering the ceremony with her husband. As they paused on the red carpet for photographers, I was struck by the expression on the face of Jesse James. So sour. Not a happy man. Immediately, I wondered how long it would be before he found some way to take his wife down? The film was shot before she won the Oscar, but, already there was the sense that he resented the attention being paid to his wife. Sadly, I was not surprised to hear the news yesterday and was gratified that Bullock had promptly moved out, leaving Jesse James with his tattoo lady. It is not my place to offer advice to a movie star, but, in my opinion, having an affair with a tattoo model is a deal breaker.
The Blind Side comes out on DVD in a few days, trailing good feelings and excellent word of mouth. Like most people who went to see this film, I went because I was on Winter Break and had some flexible time in my hands. I was pleasantly surprised at how good The Blind Side was. Sandra Bullock has had a checkered career, punctuated by some good roles, such as Speed, and by some horrible movies that you could not pay me to see, such as The Proposal. After years of playing women who were debased and humiliated, Bullock was able to take on the persona of a woman who was empowered. Most importantly, this empowered woman was not portrayed as an emasculating, unhappy, unfulfilled shrew, who needed a man to sort her out, but as a happily married woman with a stable and loving family life. Rather than follow Hollywood’s formulaic treatment of successful women, Bullock was able to pay homage to a real woman who actually exists and who was supported by her husband, who loves her. Leigh Anne Touhy, a properly double-named Southern woman, saved the life of an abandoned young man, Michael Oher, who now has a successful career in football, thanks to her and her family.
Much ink has been spilled about the fact that the Touhy family is white and Michael Oher is black. To outsiders, the plot, regardless of whether or not it is a true story, is just another example of the “magic Negro” (The Green Mile) meets the Great White Savior (Freedom Writers). But the fact is that the state of South Carolina is not known for its social safety net and if you are black and poor in that state and need help, your best bet is a rich white person. My first real job, after graduate school, was in North Carolina. I lasted two years. From me, South Carolina was a place you drove through on your way to Atlanta, the nearest thing to a big city in the South. The region has been integrated, but, unlike Los Angeles, where I live, the South is not diverse. In other words, the power distribution remains the same as it was in the 1950s.
There are many wonderful people in the South with open minds and hearts and enlightened attitudes—-I met quite a few of them during the brief time I lived there. But there is still a white-black hierarchy, lingering from the days of slavery. Taken for granted, embedded in the fabric of the system, the continued domination of white people falls under the catch-all explanation, “That’s how we do it here.” The Blind Side tried to depict both sides of the social system, but, to anyone who has actually lived in the South, the actual conditions are soft-pedaled in the film. Poverty in South Carolina is unmitigated, mostly black, and largely untouched in a state with little discretionary income. Wealth is white, protected and exists in exclusive enclaves where Michael Oher was transported. The polarizing extremes that actually exist between the races make the act of the Touhy family all the more remarkable. The disapproval of Leigh Anne Touhy’s friends and neighbors was also, I suspect, glossed over, making the school’s support of their new and large student equally commendable.
The lesson of The Blind Side is one of the healing power of “doing unto others.” But to stop at that lesson is to personalize the story too much, making the film about a commendable event of white altruism towards a worthy black person. This rather smug self-congratulatory position is uncomfortable and many people have correctly objected. Surely there is a subtext of social responsibility: how many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds could be salvaged with time and tutoring and support? The ongoing loss to our culture of the people we have thrown away is unknowable, but Michael Oher is living proof of what can be done if society would only try. What would his life been if Leigh Anne Touhy not come along?
We could all do more for those who need our help. We should all reach out and take a chance, like Leigh Ann Touhy. Sandra Bullock deserved the Oscar for resisting the temptation to overplay the role of the Southern Belle with the will of iron. She could have created a beneficent caricature of a big-haired (“The higher the hair, the closer to God,” as they say in Texas) pushy blond with a ridiculous drawl, y’all. Instead she captured the real Leigh Anne Touchy quite well—-simply a warm and wonderful woman who did a good deed, albeit in the name of Football. It was that presence, created by Bullock, who dominates The Blind Side. Unlike other films about black athletes, such as Glory or Remember the Titans, The Blind Side is never a sports story. The Blind Side is a love story.
One can only wish that Sandra Bullock will find a happy ending to match that of Michael Oher.
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette
The Arts Blogger