Okay, so I was sitting in the movie theater this past Saturday about to see Where the Wild Things Are, when the trailer for The Blind Side illuminated the screen. What first appeared to be a warm-hearted film about a southern woman (played by Sandra Bullock) and her family, quickly exposed alterior motives. Frankly, I am tired of seeing or hearing about movies in which minority characters are “saved” from their meager, cruel surroundings by a white person. In film school, I learned of such formulas in cinema and ways to identify and avoid them. The “white savior” formula is one that I try to avoid at all costs. This film attempts to disguise a racially loaded plot, with one white woman’s charm and good will toward a mentally unstable black youth from an urban setting. She provides him a “new family,” a home in the suburbs, gives him his first bed, and helps him attend a private school where it appears he is the only black person there. All of the black characters in the trailer seem to be struggling, involved in gang activity, or sinister. The film is based on a true story, but that is besides the point here. Some true stories don’t need to be made into films, especially when there is no attention to the ways that race and stereotypes inform the writing and adaptation of that story.
There has been a long legacy of these types of films, from Michelle Pfeiffer as the fearless teacher who transforms her inner-city students in Dangerous Minds, Keanu Reeves in Hardball, Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino, among many others. It is not that I refute the acts of courage and leadership that these characters exude, but the dominance of such films take away from the potential of other films to showcase minorities (and other groups) accomplishing feats for themselves. We do graduate, learn, and succeed, and it’s not always with the ultimate guidance of some outside force. Self sufficiency is maintained across communities, but with the prevalence of such films as The Blind Side, one would be hard pressed to think those representations exist in mainstream media.