November 20, 2009

HOW CLICHES START:

REVIEW: of
The Blind Side
(Brandon Fibbs, 11/20/2009, Christianity Today)

I confess I was prepared to dislike The Blind Side—not only for its potential schmaltz, but also for its potential to seem like another White Man to the Rescue flick. (My friend Tim Gordon, former film critic for Black Entertainment Television, calls these "Mighty Whitey" films, where a white protagonist saves people of color without whose "superior intervention" they would surely have been lost.) While not necessarily exempt because of it, a film based on real events complicates this dynamic. But The Blind Side never falls into this trap because it respects its characters, including Michael, too much to become an unsavory cliché. The whiteness and blackness of the characters is traded instead for a look at those things that lie beneath the skin. Leigh Anne is not driven by liberal guilt or "white supremacy," but by a heart that is far softer than her exterior would suggest, one that breaks to see another person in pain. Period. (The real-life Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy are devout Christians.) Likewise, Michael is shown to be someone who is willing to sacrifice anything, including himself, to protect those he loves. In a truly colorblind society, these characters' race would be irrelevant and we would focus instead on one human being unconditionally loving another human being.

This stance benefits the film in another way. While The Blind Side is the sort of story that traditionally degrades into sentimentality, the film remains grounded, avoiding easy, emotional potshots. If it draws tears, it earns them. Much of this anti-maudlin mentality is a result of identifying with a mama bear too ornery to shed a tear for just anything. When Leigh Anne is told she is changing Michael's life and she replies, "No, he's changing mine," we don't laugh at the sappiness of the line because it is delivered with such utter earnestness.

Leigh Anne Tuohy is unique in a Hollywood film—a non-stereotypical Christian. Christians used to portrayals of themselves as close-minded bigots or spaced-out nut jobs will see instead someone who is humble, down to earth, and instantly relatable. If Leigh Anne adheres to certain clichés, particularly those at the intersection of faith and southern Republican politics, we must remind ourselves that certain stereotypes are, after all, based on truths. While the film never uses her faith as a bludgeon, it is not shy whatsoever with letting its audience know that it is because of her beliefs that Leigh Anne acts the way she does.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 20, 2009 12:46 PM
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