28 November 2009

The Blonde Side

Bullock: She’s concealing a handgun in that bag.
Up to you to decide whether that’s a good thing —
but if you don’t buy the Proposal DVD, she just might use it on you.

The current release The Blind Side is one of the more remarkable pieces of rightwing Christian propaganda you are likely to see in a major Hollywood motion picture. It tells the uplifting story of Michael Oher, a young black man who is rescued from poverty and set on the path to stardom in professional football, all thanks to the tough love of a pistol-packing bourgeoise, played by Sandra Bullock. Though The Blind Side is based on a true story, it begs the question why that story is being told — and why it’s being told now.

For in the course of the film, we are made to understand that Oher can be saved only by divorcing himself entirely from any people who look like him (or indeed anyone who isn’t blond). The other black men in the movie are, without exception, thugs; his mother is a crack addict. The one and only time Oher embraces his own culture — singing a rap song — he wrecks the car he’s driving and nearly kills his white stepbrother, played by a Quinn Cummings clone.

By the time we get to the end of the picture, we have met only one black character who is intelligent, educated, and gainfully employed, but she’s so unsympathetic that I’m not sure what we’re supposed to make of her.

This isn’t to say that the picture isn’t entertaining, and even I found myself rooting for Bullock, who remains a charismatic presence onscreen, despite the plastic surgery. (She’s a few years younger than I: does this mean I need a facelift, too?) And if The Blind Side encourages other Southern, white, Christian, Republican bourgeoises to take real action to help their less privileged neighbors, I’m unlikely to complain much.

Yet, as I say, the timing made me uncomfortable; the film has been released just one year after a man who identifies himself as black achieved an unprecedented position of power in the United States. Granted, President Obama doesn’t behave like a drug-dealing gangsta, and surely that accounts at least in part for his success. But are we as a society really saying (or worse, believing) that African Americans can’t succeed on their own, without the Tarzan-like intervention of white people? Haven’t we come further than that?

Hollywood loves a remake, and I’m eager to see this movie remade — with Angela Bassett in the Bullock role.


William V. Madison said...

It's been brought to my attention that a clarification is in order: the characters of the Tuohy family repeatedly identify themselves in the film (as do the real Tuohys in life) as Republican and Christian. My criticism is predicated on this characterization, and on the overall tenor of The Blind Side, as may be apparent to those who have seen the movie.

Anonymous said...

even if the tuohy family were jewish democrats from connecticut, the trailer/commercials say just one thing; high fructose holiday corn. i try not to hold it against sandy, she's an actress, it's a job.

William V. Madison said...

As one whose closest relatives number dozens of Southern, Christian Republicans (no matter how hard I try to pass for a Jewish Democrat from Connecticut), I agree with you. Everybody loves Sandra Bullock, and rightly so. (And her mom is an opera singer! Who's making her Met debut shortly!)

I daresay this role, a tour-de-force, was irresistible; Sandra Bullock did a terrific job, and already there's Oscar buzz about her.

But we return to the questions: why this story? why now? A star of Bullock's caliber can pick and choose -- or else produce her own movies, as she sometimes does. (Witness The Proposal, All about Steve, and Miss Congeniality 2.)

dugco said...

clearly we watched 2 different movies... it may have come late in the movie, but the real message was individual choice and courage and hard work - sure, he had considerable help, but he did all the work himself, and made some very difficult choices in his life - read the book or watch the true life story on Oher when you get a chance

as far as timing, you said it yourself - Oscar buzz - that and Oher's first professional football season - the night i saw the movie, the crowd was a mix of obvious bullock fans and obvious football fans - quite unique

William V. Madison said...

Update on an earlier comment: Sandra Bullock’s mother is indeed an opera singer, but she is not the Susan Bullock who recently made her Met debut as Strauss’ Elektra, and who is barely old enough to be Sandra’s big sister. My apologies to one and all.