The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Michael Oher and Hollywood Myths

Aug 21, 2023

Michael Oher was the subject of the movie The Blind Side, which came out in 2009. The movie depicts how Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, a wealthy white family in Memphis, took in Oher, a black teenager living in poverty and passed around the foster care system, and helped him get good grades and play football, eventually going to their alma mater, Ole Miss.

The movie eventually raked in over 300 million dollars, and garnered Sandra Bullock an Oscar for her role as Leigh Anne Tuohy.

Oher has often made it known that he has been unhappy with how he was depicted in The Blind Side—as someone unintelligent who could never have gotten anywhere without the Tuohys. He has said that this image followed him throughout his career and impacted how he was treated.

Last week, Oher filed a petition in a Tennessee probate court, stating that he had been led to believe that he was being adopted by the Tuohy family, and only recently discovered that never happened. Instead, he has been under a conservatorship since he was eighteen, which means that even though he is a legal adult, the Tuohys have legal authority over all of his business deals.

Oher also claims that he never saw any money from The Blind Side, though he says the Tuohys and their two biological children received hundreds of thousands of dollars and possibly even millions from it. Oher’s petition seeks to end the conservatorship; to prohibit the Tuohys from using his name, image, and likeness; and money compensation.

The Tuohys, for their part, deny that they made much money from The Blind Side and say the conservatorship was the best option to get him into Ole Miss. They say they will end the conservatorship.

The situation right now is messy and unclear. There are different dynamics tangled up in this story—family, personal, class and race. What exactly is true about each person’s claims is not at all clear at the current moment.

What seems clear, though, is that Oher feels betrayed. And this expression of anger on his part may be what is most shocking to many people who saw the movie: this was presented as a feel-good story about how a family with wealth took in a poor kid and helped him realize his dreams. Now the story carries the stink of exploitation for personal gain.

And maybe that feel-good story was the problem to begin with. It’s part of the pattern of myth-making in this society: claiming that a wealthy white family helps a poor, “slow” black kid. A story where an individual beaten down by this system gets a leg up through accidental connections with a rich benefactor.

It’s always a story of individuals making their way out of poverty, not about people finding a collective way to end that poverty. And it always involves the kindness of those who have done very well within this system, while never questioning the wealth disparity—or how the wealthy made their wealth in the first place.

And Oher’s lawsuit shows that even those stories “based on a true story” are still mostly myths.