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Depending on how generous you feel — or how cynical — you will have a very different reaction to The Blind Side. Sold as a sports movie, The Blind Side is as much about race and class as it is about finding a way to win the big game.

A New Family

Less about Michael than about Leigh Ann
Less about Michael than about Leigh Ann

A giant, athletic teenager (Quinton Aaron) comes to the attention of a football coach at a private high school. The coach gets “Big Mike” admitted in spite of low test scores and no money for tuition. He is a quiet, reclusive student, a gentle giant, a conspicuous black presence in an almost all-white school.

A mother (Sandra Bullock) of two kids at the school sees that Big Mike has nowhere to go one night, and she takes him home to sleep on their couch... but only for one night. But since Michael (as she discovers he prefers to be called) has nowhere else to go, she keeps taking him home for one more night, and one more night, until finally he becomes part of the family.

Michael shows great promise on the football field, but can’t seem to hit his stride. But with the help of his new family — in particular Leigh Ann (Bullock) and little brother S.J. (Jae Head), Michael is able to find his purpose — to protect the vulnerable.

Race and the Individual

The strangest twist in Michael’s story is that his mother is still alive and living in a housing project in the same city. What business, one might reasonably ask, is it of Leigh Ann’s to see to the upbringing of another woman’s son. Add to the equation the fact that Leigh Ann is rich and white and that Michael’s mother Denise (Adriane Lenox) is poor, black, and addicted, and you have a potentially explosive story about race and stereotypes.

Take it a step further and ask why Michael — and not another kid — should be admitted to an expensive private school and a bedroom in the home of a wealthy family. He has a desirable, marketable skill: playing football. The other kids from broken homes who don’t have the build for football, should they just be doomed to poverty?

For me, these issues never rose to the surface (with one embarrassing exception when Leigh Ann seeks out Michael’s mother). If they did, and if the movie weren’t any more thoughtful than it is, I’d have found it abhorrent.

But the Tuohy family is frankly reluctant to spark a discussion about race among their friends and peers. They welcome Michael into their family for the simple reason that they like him. Leigh Ann is not a saint, nor a martyr, nor a bigot; she’s a fleshed out character, a headstrong, impatient southern woman, and not a type. The deeper issues about racial stereotypes are set aside for another day and another movie.

Not for Cynics

The Blind Side is a Hollywood melodrama. It wants to force your emotions into predictable channels — sympathy, concern, pride, adoration. So though it does handle race the right way — focusing on individuals and not types — it is not a deep or insightful movie, about race or anything else.

If you’re feeling cynical, you could say that this is not just a depiction of white liberal guilt, but worse, white paternalism; that “we” will raise your children because “you” obviously don’t know how to handle it.

Luckily, I am not that cynical. If you are, then you should probably skip The Blind Side.