‘Blind Side’ paranoia in full flight

In honor of the upcoming Oscar bash, let me jump in here with another post on the mainstream media coverage of the religious element in “The Blind Side.”

In a way, I am making yet another attempt to praise the insightful and nuanced coverage that the film has been given in the Los Angeles Times, among other places. Of course, I took a shot at the topic early on, writing a column about the film for Scripps Howard News Service.

The basic idea, once again, is that Hollywood wasn’t scared of this movie because of its respectful portrayal of a conservative, white, evangelical family (although Sandra Bullock has said that freaked her out a bit, at first). After all, this isn’t a “Christian movie.” It’s a movie, by a mainstream Hollywood director who happens to be a Christian, about a Christian family trying to live out its faith.

Now, the subtle issue connected with the film is that, in an age of niche audiences, The Blind Side was a movie that was meant to appeal to all kinds of people — black and white, male and female, football fans and people who carry tissues to theaters and expect to use them. And then there was the appeal to people in pews.

But it was clear that the movie did freak out some people, although fewer of them put their acidic thoughts into newsprint than I expected.

Then a GetReligion reader send me the following link from the other side of the Atlantic. Holy paranoia! This was the real deal and, if even half of this was voiced inside corner offices in lofty places in mass-media land, it’s amazing the movie got made at all.

This is from the Sunday Times and, after reading this headline, you just know you are in for a hathotic treat:

Sarah Palin takes on Hollywood

Fans of the politician are flocking to Sandra Bullock’s homespun film The Blind Side, and it’s heading for Oscar success

Ready to read the opening of this news essay?

If there’s anything Hollywood appreciates less, or fears more, than the inexorable rise of Sarah Palin, it’s the success of the movie The Blind Side. Heading into the Oscars, Avatar may be the techno-wow box-office behemoth, The Hurt Locker the critically acclaimed scrapper, but it’s The Blind Side that has truly blindsided the film industry. To the head-scratching consternation of West Coast movie execs, God-fearing “red state” Americans in their millions have been storming cinemas to see it. The film cost just $35m, has taken nearly $250m since the end of November and is a shock smash hit.

Based on a true story, The Blind Side stars Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, a wealthy supermom who saves a homeless black teenager from a life of almost certain crime and crack, turning him into a star American-football player. She does it with the ramrod power of her Christian faith, taking him into her prayerful family. There, she stuffs him with copious amounts of fast food — her husband, Sean, played by the country singer Tim McGraw, owns a number of Taco Bell franchises — and outsize servings of the American Dream. And just as Julia Roberts sported a push-up bra for added sexual frisson in Erin Brockovich, Bullock’s bum-hugging pencil skirts and hunky husband hint that prayer may not be the only reason she gets on her knees.

Yes, you read that right.

Ready for some more political insights about this movie? Hang on. George W. Bush has a starring role in this horror story. And some terrified movie executives have decided that it’s good to make risk-averse and make movies lots of people want to see.

Some fans even attribute the unlikely success of The Blind Side to the miraculous power of faith. After being rejected by two big studios, which were scared off by its badge-wearing proselytizing, The Blind Side was eventually financed by a company backed by Fred Smith, the owner of FedEx — a Republican, a college friend of George W. Bush and a supporter of John McCain’s presidential bid.

So, what’s really going on here? Flummoxed film executives and hapless agents are doing their damnedest not to look too terrified at what it all portends. Where companies such as Miramax once offered moviegoers challenging alternative fare, Hollywood — ravaged by a drastic fall in DVD revenues and the almost complete collapse of the independent distribution business — is becoming increasingly conservative and risk-averse. Could the success of The Blind Side, they whisper, be the ultimate trumpet blast at the precarious walls of their Californian Jericho? Mrs. Palin Comes to Hollywood? “The Blind Side isn’t alienating because it’s a movie about an insulated conservative family — it’s alienating because it so tediously chirps their Bush-era conservative values,” one reviewer snipped, echoing the feelings of many Hollywood insiders.

Pop some popcorn and read it all.

One more thing: Could someone who has seen the movie offer a specific example of a scene in which there is “proselytizing” on behalf of conservative Christianity, as in a scene that attempts to evangelize people in the audience who are part of another faith group? I’m actually curious about that line in this masterwork.

Photo: The real Michael Oher and his extended family, during his days at Ole Miss.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Chris

    Having seen the movie, I can’t see what conservative Christian denomination it would be proselytizing for. As I recall, the Tuohys are not shown attending church; the school their children attend is merely indicated as a Christian school; they pray as a family perhaps once (before Thanksgiving dinner); and Mrs. Tuohy is shown to wear a small gold cross as a necklace. If that suggests heavy-handed endorsement of evangelical Christianity to a movie reviewer, I would propose that said movie reviewer is overly sensitive. Frankly, the Tuohys talk a lot more about Ole Miss in the movie, than they ever do about Christianity. Is Ole Miss a conservative evangelical Christian denomination? :-)

  • Pamela Zohar

    Football in the South? That’s FAR more a religion than outsiders might think.

  • Bob Smietana

    Fabulous. Absolutely fabulous.

  • Jerry

    the inexorable rise of Sarah Palin

    For a short instant, I thought I was reading an annual psychics predict issue of a National Enquirer-style tabloid.

    I also have to say that reading stories such as this makes me long for a reality to match the Monty Python skit where every time the plot got silly an actor in a military uniform marched on the set and said “that’s silly” and broke it up.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Pamela:

    I grew up in Texas. Tell me about it.

  • http://www.freshimpactpr.com Scott Spiewak

    I hesitated seeing the movie because in the past I was so turned off by ‘Christian movies’ being so horribly done. Slapping people in the face. I finally went to see it just last week.

    I have to agree with your comments to the Times, the movie did not push anything. More just show someone doing good for someone else…it was more inspiring than anything.

    The Ole Miss dialogue was talked about more than anything. I think too, that is why the mass appeal has had success. The movie felt like a real movie. Not a low budget Christian film.

    Love this dialogue thread.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Could someone who has seen the movie offer a specific example of a scene in which there is “proselytizing” on behalf of conservative Christianity, as in a scene that attempts to evangelize people in the audience who are part of another faith group?

    No, because such a scene doesn’t exist. The closest you get is a scene early in the movie where the football coach tells administrators that, if the school doesn’t give someone like Oher a chance, then the school should take “Christian” out of its name. Of course, the administrators (and the audience) realize that the coach’s primary goal is to get Oher on the football team.

    Frankly, there’s more promotion of Taco Bell in the movie than promotion of Christianity or, gasp!, conservative Christianity.

  • Dan Berger

    Wow. I thought I was reading the Telegraph or even the Weekly World News, not the Times.

    For their information… that movie would have dropped like a rock without Sandra Bullock. She deserves that Oscar nomination, if only because she inhabits Leigh Ann so well, even carrying off the accent without seeming forced.

    John Nolte, over at Big Hollywood, pointed out that what impressed him was that he didn’t notice the accent. That’s pretty rare.

  • Matt Jamison

    I think the real offense of “The Blind Side” is that it portrays white, evangelical, Christian, upper middle-class southerners in a positive way. This is a group that coastal and European elites positively love to hate, particularly for their supposed racism and intolerance. Thus the bizarre mention of Sarah Palin who, as far as I know, has absolutely no connection with this movie.

    Some people get really upset when their most cherished stereotypes are challenged.

  • Ryan Taylor

    So should I write about being alienated about all the Hollywood Films that don’t support my viewpoint?

  • Patton Dodd

    What is “badge-wearing proselytizing,” anyway?

    A few points about “The Blind Side” and religion:

    Early in the film, as we see Oher walking into the school for the first time, we’re shown an arch that the kids walk through on the way to class. It features a couple Bible quotes–I forget which, but they are to the tune of “With God all things are possible.” The camera focuses on that a couple times, and shows Oher gazing at it before he walks through. Later in the film, we see a flashback to that moment–it frames Oher’s understanding of his journey.

    That’s probably the biggest religious message moment. The other stuff is more character detail–Leanne Tuohy’s cross, and her statement to the gangster that she’s not scared of him because…”I’m in a prayer group with the district attorney, I’m a member of the NRA, and I’m always packing heat.” (That might be the movie’s most compact statement of the stereotypical image of evangelicals: running in powerful circles and gun-toting.) But there are other, occasional nods to rich white evangelical culture and politics.

    Mostly, the movie evangelical-izes the book making the story Leanne’s story. She’s the narrator. The book’s opening “blind side” metaphor about Lawrence Taylor, which is Michael Lewis’ uncanny insight, has now become Leanne’s opening monologue.

    None of this amounts to proselytization. But I think it’s fair to say the movie utilizes certain narrative strategies for speaking to its core audience.

  • Chris Bolinger

    …the movie utilizes certain narrative strategies for speaking to its core audience.

    Right. That massive “core audience” that has netted the movie over $250 million in domestic box office receipts, based almost entirely on word of mouth. There are an amazing number of rich, white evangelicals, or they each have seen the movie 15 times…or your premise is flawed.

  • JasonR

    One more thing: Could someone who has seen the movie offer a specific example of a scene in which there is “proselytizing” on behalf of conservative Christianity, as in a scene that attempts to evangelize people in the audience who are part of another faith group? I’m actually curious about that line in this masterwork.

    It was obviously Bullock’s mention of being in a prayer group! (sarcasm intended)

    Actually, that scene was my favorite in the entire movie (and there were more a few memorable ones)! But nothing quite tops Bullock getting in that thugs face and saying “I’m in a prayer group with the D.A., I’m a member of the NRA and I’m always packin’!” It was much like a mother bear protecting her cub with no regard for her own safety- instinct driven by unconditional love for another person!


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