Thoughtful Thursday: The Blind Side’s Open Adoption Story

the_blind_side06In the midst of waiting for completed paperwork to make its way to the IAC, we’re self-educating.  This you know.  We’re covered up with not just adoption-related books for grown-ups, but children’s books and movies too. Recently, we revisited the movie The Blind Side, with Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw. The first time I (*A*) saw this movie, I was not sure about it because of the way it portrayed the main characters. Typical stereotypes: the wealthy Caucasian family and the poor African-American teenager. After watching it again, with a different focus (adoption) I began to feel differently. Yes, the Tuohys (family from the movie, they pronounce it “Two-we”) were a wealthy, Caucasian family. Yes, Michael Oher (the African-American teenager, pronounced like “Oar”) was poor and came from an unstable biological family life. Movie critics and nay-sayers aside, there’s more to this story than just those facts.  Let me give a brief synopsis of the movie before I go any further.

*SPOILER ALERT* (If you have not seen the movie)

Michael Oher grew up in Hurt Village, a poor African-American neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee. The Tuohys (Leigh Anne, Sean, Collins, and SJ) are a wealthy, Caucasian family. Michael, with the help of a friend, was able to get into a Christian private school because he was a great athlete. Michael did not have a stable home life and the Tuohys discovered him walking alone one cold night before Thanksgiving. The Tuohys offered him a place to stay for the night, which turned into more than a night. Michael became a part of their family. The Tuohys became Michael’s legal guardians. He also began playing football for the school. He played left tackle and was a great athlete. College football coaches wanted him, BAD. He was sought by some of the best schools, LSU, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Auburn, Alabama, South Carolina, on and on. He decided on Ole Miss. However, to be able to go to college, Michael had to bring up his grades. The Tuohys hired a private tutor, Miss Sue. Michael’s decision to go to Ole Miss created a bit of an issue because Leigh Ann and Sean went to Ole Miss and were boosters. Miss Sue was also a graduate of Ole Miss. The authorities were under the impression that the Tuohys took in Michael, provided for him, and then coerced him into going to Ole Miss. It took a bit for Michael to convince the authorities that no coercion was involved, but he finally managed it. Michael went to Ole Miss, did very well, and was #1 in the 2009 NFL draft for the Baltimore Ravens. Yay for that.

Ok-my take on this movie: of course, it strikes a chord with me because of its adoption narrative. The Tuohys became Michael’s legal guardians and made him a part of their family. In the movie, Leigh Anne often refers to Michael as “my son.” When I first saw the movie, I took issue with the stereotypes.  It just seemed like another Hollywood portrayal of a poor person/community/group of color being “rescued” by a wealthy Caucasian family/person/entity. You know, the curious role of the “white savior,” as movies like Dangerous Minds, or (sorry, Hilary Swank, we still love you), Freedom Writers.  You never see the race roles reversed in these films.  This post is not meant to really dig into whether the films accurately reflect society and social problems – the point here is to focus on the actual adoption story.

the real Michael OherBecause the adoption story is a real one, like I said   And it’s what changed my mind when I watched The Blind Side the second time. I realized this family’s support of Michael helped him achieve success. The real Michael Oher’s photo is to the left, holding his Ravens jersey, with LeAnne and SJ Tuoy next to him. You can’t ignore that the Tuohys have money, and the privileges that come along with money. (It’s hard to separate the privilege-that-comes-from-money from natural self-confidence).  The part of the movie that changed my mind was when Leigh Anne was at the Department of Social Services inquiring about the process to become Michael’s legal guardian.  The social worker explained Michael was in custody of the state and it was essentially a matter of signing a few forms.  She asked the social worker “You would give him to me without asking his mother?”  Apparently so (according to the Hollywood version of DSS).  So Leigh Anne took it upon herself to find Michael’s birth mother, visit her, and tell her their plans – making sure she understood why they were doing it. Maybe she was thinking of how she would feel in Michael’s birth mother’s place, but it emphasizes the fact that the Tuohys did not want to deny Michael access to his birth mother or have him forget where he came from in his life.

michael oherI found this view of the movie so compelling that I decided to move on to the non-Hollywood version, Michael Oher’s book, I Beat the Odds: From homeless to the Blind Side. I am a little over half-way finished, but what I’ve found helpful is Michael’s explanations of parts of the film are not consistent with what happened in his life. For example, the movie portrays him as not knowing anything about football. This is not accurate. Michael explains in his book that he did know about football and actually, his preferred sport was basketball. Another example: throughout his teen years with the Tuohys, he maintained a relationship with his birth mother and other members of his birth family, a brother, especially, that was encouraged by his adoptive family – his birth mom even escorted him (along with the Tuoys) down the field for his senior homecoming game.

So, while you might think The Blind Side plays into some of those old stereotypes, it’s a true story and a compelling look into one family’s open adoption experience, even though it’s not marketed as such. We will add this movie to our DVD library!

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