By James Madden. Viewed on 21.02.10
There’s a certain time of year when I attend the cinema’s on a very frequent basis. This time in Australia is usually the summer period. However, I am not usually frequenting the cinema to see the summer blockbuster releases, like the good majority of cinema patrons. A summer cinema release does not mean a summer blockbuster to me, but instead equates to an Academy Award contender.
In this time, I pretty much see any film that is a sure-fire flick to be nominated for an Academy Award. This surge in cinema viewing that occurs across the world can be seen as one of the huge upsides to the very controversial award giving group that is synonymous with shaky and questionable choices.
Leading up to the Academy Awards, I became aware of an advance screening of John Lee Hancock’s The Blind Side; a football family drama about a Southern family who takes in a disadvantaged black youth and aid him along with love, support and encouragement all the way to the NFL.
This is not the usual type of film that I attend. The family friendly feel-good, “you can do anything if you have love” story does not usually appear on my radar, let alone a sports film in general. However, The Blind Side had a leg up being nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, and having its star, Sandra Bullock, as the frontrunner to win the Best Actress prize. So with this reason in tow, I sped off to see it in its advanced release. And boy did it surprise me.
Set in Memphis, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy (played by Tim McGraw and Bullock) discover Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) walking in the rain one night, with a dirty shirt in his plastic bag as his only possession and nowhere to stay. You can pretty much guess what happens from here on end. The usual conflicts and resolutions follow in a very neat order, which is to be expected of a Hollywood produced film with a Hollywood superstar as it’s leading attraction. And yet, somehow, I found myself continually smiling and wanting to burst out into applause for many different reasons. Most importantly, there is an interesting representation of race.
The last year in cinema has seen two different and interesting portrayals of disadvantages black youths. In Lee Daniel’s Precious, we see a physically and sexually abused, illiterate and overweight 16-year-old girl, who is pregnant with her second baby from her father. Aided by her teacher, she manages to breakthrough and discover, above all else, the power of love.
A.O. Scott sees similarities within The Blind Side, in an article he wrote a few months ago in the New York Times. Scott notes that both films portray a disadvantaged youth overcoming their obstacles with the help of teachers (in Precious) and a rich Southern white skinned family (in The Blind Side). The message that seems to be reiterated in the final moments of The Blind Side, is that without this aid, these kids would just be another causality in a poor, disadvantaged, ghetto life.
Critiques of Precious see it as further perpetuating a negative stereotype of the African American race as impoverished, illiterate and incestuous, whereas The Blind Side has had the issue of white guilt at its helm. Race is dealt more delicately in The Blind Side, and at the same time propelling an idea of a fairytale saviour through the guise of a wealthy white family.
After seeing these two films within a week, I strongly disagree that either one perpetuates any negative racial stereotypes. It is true that The Blind Side has its problems, and indeed the literal white knight image can be very problematic, however, this is an issue that is superfluous from the film’s core. Ultimately, the film’s message is the overcoming adversity through the support of well wishing and benevolent forces.
This is not a falsified notion either, as both of these films are based on true stories, with The Blind Side being explicitly based on the story of Michael Oher, and Precious being based upon an amalgamation of many girls like the main character, written by “Sapphire” (a pseudonym for Romona Lofton, teaching in the projects of Harlem).
Being made for a marginally modest Hollywood budget of $27 million dollars, The Blind Side has received impressive box office takings. In its opening weekend, it came second only to New Moon raking in $34 million. However, in its second weekend, the film took in unlikely $40 million. The Blind Side has also been the first film to make over $200 million with having a female name receiving sole top billing over the film.
The film has been Bullock’s most successful box office draw and has drowned her in awards from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the Golden Globes), Critics Choice, Screen Actor’s Guild and what I predict (although an easy prediction to make) to be an Academy Award.
The Blind Side is rounded off with very good performances by Aaron, McGraw, Kathy Bates and Ariane Lenox (who plays Michael’s drug addicted mother, and who in real life won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Mrs Muller in the Original Broadway production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt).
Hollywood with a capital, brightly lit up ‘H’, The Blind Side is a cliché filled film. However, it still succeeds in presenting all the necessarily elements of a successful family sports drama. Narrative was simple and linear, the plot propelled action along swiftly, and the performances were extremely decent. It is a great story that left me with a warm feeling. Maybe I’m just ignorant and impressionable, but not everything has to be cynically picked away to demean a simple film’s strong and positive message.
The Blind Side is released in Australia this Thursday.