Wednesday, December 30, 2009

No, That's Not the Point, Ms. Bullock

Last night, still not quite taking advantage of our new cable situation, inertia struck, and, after watching Better Off Ted, my wife and I found ourselves watching 20/20, "The Blind Side: The Real Story Behind the Movie". This Sandra Bullock vehicle (which has already garnered her a Golden Globe nomination) about a well-to-do white family adopting a black ghetto youth to go on to academic and football success is the feel-good movie of the year, already grossing over $150 million. And one can feel-gooder about it because the ghetto youth the movie's based on, Michael Oher, is now a starting offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens and the "mother," Leigh Anne Toughy, is all-too-sassy, all-too-Southern, and all-too-real.

The 20/20 special was as milquetoast and sentimental as a fluff piece can be--made all the better because the actor who portrayed Oher, Quinton Aaron, is also a hardscrabble ghetto youth made good by starring in the film. Aside from being the perfect fodder for some tried-and-true Mandingo jokes from yours truly, what struck me last night was Sandra Bullock's response to a question posed by reporter, Deborah Roberts.

As with all things interracial and successful in this Age of Obama, there has been a backlash against The Blind Side that falls (surprise! surprise!) along racial lines. Apparently, many folks (myself included) have no desire to see the film because it's yet another stereotypical portrayal of good-hearted white folks helping the hapless Negro to realize the success s/he never could've realized her/himself.

Bullock, with appropriate Golden Globe gravitas furrowed her preternaturally wrinkle-less brow and popped off pretentious, saying something along the lines that if money can't cross racial, religious, and/or cultural lines to help others, what was the point of having money?

Roberts let this slide (this was a puff piece, after all), but Ms. Bullock clearly (intentionally?) missed the point here. It's not that white people shouldn't help black people or blacks help whites or anybody shouldn't help anybody else for fear of trampling across whatever schisms divide this country. They all should, of course. They all do. Every day. And bully for them!

But those other stories are ones we hardly, if, ever see. The Other almost never saves white people--unless it's as some vehicle towards spiritual enlightenment which will enable the white man to turn around and save some colored ass (Dances with Wolves, Samurai, and now Avatar). Precious is only one of a handful of movies (Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, Alikah and the Bee) where the Others help each other. And The Pursuit of Happyness is the only movie in recent memory where the Other actually helps himself to succeed.

Instead, since the days of Conrack, we have been fed a steady diet of good-hearted white folks (I call them "White Messiahs") going in and rescuing those poor darkies from their circumstances, their poverty, and, one can only assume, from their very selves. Hollywood will bend, twist, and make up the facts (Mississippi Burning) to fit this alabaster altruistic narrative (Oher himself has objected to the way that The Blind Side has portrayed his biological family and hates that the movie claims that the Touhys actually taught him how to play football) while often ignoring or glossing over whatever role white privilege may have played to put these Others in the dire straits they find themselves in. Yes, somehow, mystically find themselves oppressed, but don't worry, the White Man will save them!

We've already seen the teacher and the warrior fulfill these roles ad nauseum. This latest spate of sports films (starting with Hurricane and continuing with The Express and, yes, The Blind Side) is just the latest incarnation of our White Messiah made celluloid.

My own problem with these movies is that, though they come from a much different, much more liberal place, they still spread the message of white supremacy. No, The Blind Side is not Birth of a Nation, with the Klan riding in to save the day. However, this flick and those like it oddly mimic the notorious Dred Scott decision which stated that blacks "have no rights which white men are bound to respect." But instead, they say that blacks and other Others have "no achievement attained not given to them by the white man"; that any gains by an Other could not have been reached by her/his own initiative and skill, but given to them by kind-hearted white folks who pulled them out of their own mystically-disadvantaged mire; that those gains are somehow tainted, most definitely not earned (as white folks' most definitely are), and, therefore, are no achievements at all or at least no achievements "which white men are bound to respect."

It is a common sentiment, idea, stereotype, myth that has pervaded white culture since the Civil Rights movement, casting a haze of doubt on all Black achievement outside of the accepted arenas of sports and entertainment. As an example, there's probably not a single black alumnus of a prestigious university who has not heard accusations of affirmative action at some point in their academic career--though affirmative action actually doesn't exist at the lion's share of those institutions. Professional blacks have probably heard that same sentiment or seriously suspect it exists in their own workplaces.

After all, didn't Rush Limbaugh say that Obama "probably didn't get out of Harvard without affirmative action" (though how one graduates with the help of AA is beyond me)? And wasn't this the same myth exploited by Geraldine Ferraro when she claimed that the black then-senator wouldn't have been competing for the Presidency if he hadn't been black, completely ignoring the facts that there'd never been a black President, that Obama's was truly a rags-to-riches story, and that Hillary Clinton wouldn't have been a Senator, let alone a Presidential candidate, if her husband hadn't been President?

Yet this myth persists, constantly besmirching any gains attained by this country's "Others," and movies like The Blind Side perpetuate this myth. That's the point, Ms. Bullock. That is why folks like me complain about such movies, why we look suspiciously at such movies, at why Hollywood continues to make such movies, and why we're always suspicious as to why white America continues to eat these films up with such self-congratulatory weepiness. And that is why folks like me refuse to see movies like The Blind Side and won't be in the least bit happy when you win your Golden Globe and Oscar for starring in it.


nunya said...

Umm, not ALL of white America eats that shit up. I was sort of hoping you would have something to say about the movie buzz. As much as I like Bullock, she's not increasing her wealth on my ten bucks. I read the Oher wikipedia page, & linked it in my post. He was already playing ball for the college when he met whats-her-name.

Movie choices

Did pooh-butt like the holidays?

boukman70 said...

Fair enough, Nunya.

Yeah, Pooh had a great ole time--being the center of attention and getting all those new toys! Not to mention the new house!

We had a great time. I hope you and yours did likewise.

Kendra said...

Ah, thanks for writing this. I second the sentiment that not ALL of white America eats this up...I saw the preview this summer and it made my blood boil. It's unfortunate that my first impression was obviously right on, and also that most of the other people in that cinema were oohing and ahhhing, as the GG and Oscars judges seem to be.