Posted on August 16, 2023

‘The Blind Side’ Isn’t the Only Film That Gets Things Wrong. All White Savior Movies Do.

Robyn Autry, MSNBC, August 15, 2023

Earlier this week, former NFL player Michael Oher, the central character in the book and movie “The Blind Side,” filed a petition alleging fraud against the people who told him he was family. Oher alleges that when he was 18, Leigh Ann Tuohy and her husband, Sean Tuohy, tricked him into signing away his rights to control his financial future, and even the rights to his own name and life story, by convincing him that he was signing documents that would make him a legal member of their family. Oher said that what he actually signed was a contract agreeing that the Tuohys would be his conservators and not, as they led him to believe, his parents.


It’s unclear at this point if the 37-year-old Oher’s case against the Tuohys has merit, but nothing’s unclear about the 2009 movie that catapulted Oher and the Tuohys into fame. It was typical, Hollywood white savior nonsense that, unsurprisingly, made hundreds of millions of dollars.

While Oher’s lawsuit is an indictment of sorts against the Tuohys, it is just as much an indictment of movie audiences that over and over again lap up stories about white people saving some downtrodden Black person or some downtrodden group of Black people.


“The Blind Side,” where a relatively small white woman, played by Sandra Bullock (who won an Oscar for her role), develops a relationship with a large Black teenager who had experienced homelessness is a twisted version of “Beauty and the Beast.” It excites a white imagination that longs for contact with the Black other and simultaneously fears that contact. Similar to what Joseph Conrad did in his 19th-century novel “The Heart of Darkness,” the Black person is considered dangerous or irreparably damaged until a white person sees their humanity.

Of course, the white savior flick can also double as the “magical Negro” flick where the Black character — such as the one Michael Clarke Duncan played in “The Green Mile” or the one Whoopi Goldberg played in “Ghost” — is there to help white characters become the best versions of themselves. {snip}

Oher isn’t a fictional character, but a real-life person. Even so, the movie reduces him to a gentle giant with unrecognized promise. And who recognizes his promise? Not the Black people he grew up around with, but a well-off white couple: the Tuohys.

Even more than the fantasy of white people saving Black people, movies such as “The Blind Side” are fantasies of racial harmony. Think of Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in “Dangerous Minds.” That character, a teacher, goes into the modern-day “heart of darkness,” the so-called inner city. She’s challenged and tested but eventually wins over the hearts and minds of Black people. And everyone gains from the encounter. The white person is the hero, without whom the Black characters, we’re left to believe, would never have been anything.