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You Were So Blinded To 'The Blind Side,' You Missed How It Was All A Big White Savior Lie
This is repulsive.
The Blind Side was always a beautiful lie: Michael Oher, a Black kid from Tennessee who bounced around the foster care system, constantly returning to his drug-addicted mother until he found love and stability with some very nice white people, Sean and Leigh Ann Tuohy, who took him in when he was 16. He went on to play college football at the Tuohys’ alma mater, the University of Mississippi, and played in the NFL for eight years, primarily with the Baltimore Ravens, where he won the Super Bowl as their starting right tackle.
His story was featured in journalist (and Sean Tuohy’s classmate) Michael Lewis’s book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game and later became the successful movie The Blind Side, a perfect white savior vehicle for a movie star to win an Academy Award. Predictably, Sandra Bullock took home the Oscar in 2010, although I greatly prefer her performance in Miss Congeniality.
I’ve never liked the film, but I accepted that the lie was pleasing to audiences. Now, we’ve learned how grotesque the truth really is.
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This week, Michael Oher, now 37, asked a Tennessee court to formally end his legal relationship with the Tuohys, one that has a distinct antebellum stench. Oher’s petition, filed in Shelby County, claims the Tuohys never actually adopted him, as the film suggests. Instead, less than three months after he turned 18, they manipulated him into signing a conservatorship that gave them legal authority to make business deals in his name. The lawsuit also claims that the Tuohys swindled Oher out of the rights to his own life story.
A conservatorship, under Tennessee law, is when a court removes at least some “decision-making powers and duties” from “a person with a disability who lacks capacity to make decisions in one or more important areas.” There is no evidence that Oher suffered from any such disabilities.
Oher consented to the conservatorship believing that it would legally make him a member of the Tuohy family. He repeated that belief in his 2011 memoir, I Beat The Odds. He only discovered in February that the Tuohys had lied to him. He was never their child. He was just an investment, one that paid off handsomely for them.
From the New York Times:
For “The Blind Side,” the hit film that starred Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, Tim McGraw as Sean Tuohy and Quinton Aaron as Oher, the Tuohys negotiated a contract of $225,000 plus 2.5 percent of future “defined net proceeds” for themselves and their biological children, the lawsuit said.
The Tuohys received millions of dollars in royalties from The Blind Side, which earned $309 million worldwide on a $29 million budget. And while the Tuohys’ white children profited from Oher’s life, Oher got nothing. It’s truly an American story.
“Mike didn't grow up with a stable family life,” explained Oher’s attorney, J. Gerard Stranch IV. “When the Tuohy family told Mike they loved him and wanted to adopt him, it filled a void that had been with him his entire life. Discovering that he wasn't actually adopted devastated Mike and wounded him deeply.”
This isn’t just about the money. It’s about love and trust. The people he thought were his parents used him like a sharecropper.
Oher never cared much for The Blind Side movie, either, and he resented how the movie depicted him in furtherance of its white savior narrative. He’s not a simple giant (you’re thinking of The Green Mile), but the film created an image that made people treat him as mentally inferior.
“People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie,” Oher told ESPN in 2015. “They don't really see the skills and the kind of player I am. That’s why I get downgraded so much, because of something off the field.”
Nonetheless, Oher was content to let the movie myth persist. He appreciated what the Tuohys had done for him. Despite his troubled background, he was too innocent to see the now obvious signs of grooming and exploitation. For instance, Oher attended the same school as the Tuohy kids and would sometimes spend the night with them. However, the Tuohys took a greater interest in Oher once his athletic skills drew wide attention. Mentoring a local talent isn’t in itself sinister but the Tuohys latched onto Oher’s emotional need for a family. They invited him to spend more time at their posh Memphis home and eventually asked him to move in with them. The petition claims they promised they’d adopt him while encouraging him to call them “Mom” and “Dad.” This all feels like a calculated buildup to the conservatorship and a nice payout down the line.
The NCAA investigator, presented so antagonistically in the film, wasn’t wrong.
Ending the Tuohys’ conservatorship seems reasonable since Oher is a grown-ass man who turns 40 in a few years. Oher’s petition asks the courts to issue an injunction barring the Tuohys from using his name and likeness, which they still grossly do. When promoting their foundation and Leigh Anne Tuohy’s work as an author and motivational speaker, the couple often refers to Oher as their adopted son. “Adopted” has a precise legal meaning. It’s not like the expression “brother from another mother.”
“Since at least August of 2004, Conservators have allowed Michael, specifically, and the public, generally, to believe that Conservators adopted Michael and have used that untruth to gain financial advantages for themselves and the foundations which they own or which they exercise control,” the petition says. “All monies made in said manner should in all conscience and equity be disgorged and paid over to the said ward, Michael Oher.”
This is probably shocking to fans of the movie (who doesn’t love Sandy?) but in Memphis circles, the Tuohys are not that beloved, especially among people in the service industry. That’s a sure sign you’re trash. One user on Reddit posted, “Out of a lot of rich, entitled, stuck up nightmare regulars we had, she was easily one of the fucking worst.”
Sean Tuohy pled poverty to the Daily Memphian website and insists that the Tuohys “didn’t make any money off the movie,” only a share of proceeds from the book, which is still about Oher’s life not his. Tuohy’s son, Sean Jr., contradicts this absurd claim. He told Bartstool Sports on Monday that he’d pulled in “60, 70 grand” from the movie over the past four to five years. This kid isn’t even on the poster, but he’s still getting paid for that “Bust A Move” sing-a-long.
“We're devastated,” Sean Tuohy said, presumably while someone played a tiny violin. “It’s upsetting to think we would make money off any of our children. But we're going to love Michael at 37 just like we loved him at 16.”
That sort of love might pad the Tuohys’ pockets, but it’s “love” that Michael Oher is far better off without.
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