Should We Want Movies Like Sandra Bullock's <i>The Blind Side?</i>

In the manipulated world of movie trailers, Oher's story is a disturbing revival of the "benevolent white master" trope.
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If I think Sandra Bullock seems appealing in The Blind Side, opening November 20, does that mean I'm a racist?

Let's watch the trailer, and then I'll explain...

Oh, let's dance around the obvious for a minute. Let's start by saying that as a wealthy, no-nonsense Tennessee housewife named Leigh Anne Tuohy, Sandra Bullock looks like she's giving one of the best performances of her career. She seems focused and specific, and there's an exciting energy in her eyes.

And hey, there's a good song by The Fray at the beginning of the trailer.

But that's just it. The song is called "How to Save a Life," a title that suggests the trailer's breathtaking paternalism.

This is the story we're told: A poor, ignorant, and "innocent" black teenager (IBT) stumbles into the privileged world of white society. Because he's so "backwards," the only white people he can communicate with are small children. And even they know better than he does. One little boy even has to teach the IBT how to smile at girls so they won't be afraid of him.

And oh, thank god for the white boy's kindness, because the IBT's life is hard! He's never had his own bed, he's never gotten much schooling, and the other black people in his life are Mean and Scary and Probably Do Drugs. It'll take a white kid's mercy to get him out of this mess.

Except wait. No. It's not the white kid who can help the IBT. It's the white kid's pretty white mother (PWM). When the PWM learns about the IBT's hard knock life, she uses all of her rich white magic to make it better. She even helps him learn to play football. Yes! A skinny white lady teaches someone about football!

And you know what else? IBT's simple-minded charm affects the PWM. When her rich whitelady friends compliment her good deeds, she says, with a small choke in her voice, that it's really him who's changing her.

So. Ahem. Yeah.

This movie is based on a true story. A rich white family really did adopt Michael Oher, a homeless black teenager, and eventually, he became an NFL star. In the real world, that's very moving.

In the manipulated world of movie trailers, however, Oher's story is a disturbing revival of the "benevolent white master" trope.

There are shots of Michael studying in the Tuohy kitchen and of Leigh Anne buying him clothes. There's a scene of Leigh Anne facing down black people in the projects and calling Michael her son. There's a voiceover of a character telling Leigh Anne, "I think what you're doing is so great." And it's all underscored by feelgood power-pop.

In other words, the trailer begs us to feel sorry for black people and feel grateful that there are white people in the world who can take of them.

A story like that dehumanizes black and white people alike. It irons the complexity out of life and replaces it with a simplistic lie.

It's possible that The Blind Side is much more sophisticated than this trailer, but if that's true, then the trailer is even more unsettling. No matter what the film is like, someone decided that the best way to market it was to trot out the "inspiring" notion of helpless blacks being rescued by whites. Is that a story we should find entertaining?

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