We’re in the process of wrapping up the semester at work, so all the grades have been turned in, and now in these last few days before Winter Break begins, we’re just doing what we can to keep the students safe and entertained. That means this has been a week of movies. My class has several very hyperactive teenage boys who happen to really enjoy action movies (although they argue incessantly over what constitutes a grown up movie versus a childish one; superheroes are invariably childish until the explosions start and then everything’s copacetic), so that’s the majority of our movie library at school. Unfortunately, by this point in the year we’ve watched most of what we have on hand, and my kids really don’t like to watch movies they’ve already seen (getting a consensus when even one of them happens to have watched a movie before recently is a bit of a headache), so we’re kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel. It’s down to disaster and sports movies, which work fine, although I tend to think those kinds of movies are a bit of a snooze. But that’s beside the point, because if we only watched things that I liked, then the kids would get bored and I’d probably get in trouble for showing R-rated stuff in school (I have a perennial argument with one student about how we can’t watch any Freddie Krueger or Jason movies because of their rating; also, I don’t like slasher flicks, but that’s just a bonus).
So today we settled on watching The Blind Side. Now, I’ve seen The Blind Side before, but I hadn’t watched it in a couple years, so it was good to revisit. I remembered it being a pretty heartwarming story about kindness and finding your place in an adoptive family. That much is still true. It’s also about how awesome rich, white people are for saving the good, black kids from their crappy lives with bad, black people. For anyone who’s not familiar with the movie, The Blind Side is based on events surrounding Leigh Anne Tuohy, a wealthy white woman, befriending and ultimately adopting Michael Oher, a black kid from the projects who happens to have a talent for football and an extremely gentle demeanor. Tuohy fosters Oher through his high school years, encouraging him to become a star athlete at the wealthy private school where she’s worked to get him admitted, and eventually go on to play football for her alma mater the University of Mississippi. It’s all, naturally, quite heartwarming. You just have to overlook the fact that every narrative turn in this film is working to reassure us that Michael Oher is the good kind of black person. His mother’s a drug addict who’s lost custody of all her children, his friends from his old neighborhood are all dropouts and drug dealers, and he’s just this big, quiet guy who has to be given the proper motivation in order to excel at the American South’s favorite pastime, football (perhaps the most telling line comes from Oher’s football coach, who remarks after seeing him perform dismally at his first practice that he can’t believe the kid doesn’t do more during the plays because usually kids with rough backgrounds just can’t wait to do some violence). It’s all kind of infuriating, because Oher comes across as this unimpeachable saint who clearly is superior to every other black person depicted on screen. I don’t know what Michael Oher is like in real life, but I have a hard time swallowing the idea that he really is as perfect as the movie makes him out to be; it simply defies human nature, and I suspect it does this because we have to go back to the narrative that he’s “one of the good ones.” I find that very frustrating, especially considering that I’ve been seeing folks do everything they can to talk about Michael Brown in polar opposite terms. Where Oher is depicted as a sweet kid who deserves to be pulled out of the awful life that he was born into simply because he’s more well-mannered than his peers, Brown gets demonized repeatedly by people who have to maintain the narrative that his death was justified. They can’t even say that it’s tragic that he died so young, but instead focus on assassinating his character, highlighting petty crimes that he committed as justification for his shooting. It’s monstrous, and it sickens me. And so I come back to my students, who sat and soaked up everything the movie had to say about how awful most black people are, wrapped in a saccharine sweet shell of generous love predicated on Michael Oher being nonthreatening enough and Leigh Anne Tuohy being rich enough. By the time it was over, I really wanted to talk with my students about it, but the demands of my job in the midst of end-of-term prep as well as the general demeanor of my kids (I love working with them, but they do struggle with serious large group conversations) meant that it was more pressing to move them on to the next activity so I could go take care of other responsibilities. I regret not saying anything now, but I find myself wondering how to bring it back up, especially when their biggest fascination with the film was related to the football over the relational stuff. Maybe I can talk with them before the break begins. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just continue mulling over the treatment of the two Michaels.