27 November 2009

The Blind Side — mostly a true story

I can't help it: Whenever I see a movie that is promoted as "based on a true story" — or, more nebulously, "inspired by a true story" — it doesn't take me long afterward to try to find out how much was really true and how much was Hollywood.

And such was with Hollywood's latest feel-good blockbuster, The Blind Side, featuring Sandra Bullock in a dramatic role (she's the best I've ever seen her here) telling the story of Michael Oher, a societal nobody who seemed destined to be a another grim statistic of the slums before he was taken in by the Sean and Leigh Ann Tuohy family of Memphis, Tenn., and eventually became an all-star football player.

As it turns out, the film, as unbelievable as it may seem, isn't embellished all that much from what really happened. The story of Oher is told in "The Ballad of Big Mike," a New York Times Magazine book excerpt well worth the read. Most of the differences between the film and the book account are minor, or are details that are alluded to in the film but not spelled out in detail:

  • Sean Tuohy actually had some connection with Oher before they brought him to their home for the first time, and he had long taken an interest in poor children.
  • The Tuohys' daughter, Collins, was quite an athlete in her own right and certainly was a more interesting person than the portrayal in the film would suggest.
  • Although it is clear from the film that the Tuohys were active Christians, they're a bit more than that, being among the early backers of a major evangelical church in Memphis, and Sean Tuohy is currently on the evangelical Christian speaking circuit.
  • The conservative religiosity of the school is downplayed in the film as well. Here's what Oher's tutor had to say about the school's employment application form: "The application did not have one question about education. It was all about religion and what I thought about homosexuality and drinking and smoking."
  • The name of the school used in the film is the fictional Wingate Christian School; Oher actually attended Briarcrest Christian School.
  • In the film, Oher needs a 2.5 grade-point average and ekes out with 2.52. The part about a 2.52 is correct, but in fact he needed a 2.65 average. He was able to raise his grades to that average by getting high school credits through a remote-education program sponsored by Brigham Young University. "The Mormons may be going to hell. But they really are nice people," Sean Tuohy is quoted as saying in the book excerpt.
  • A last-minute snag in getting Oher's BYU grades accepted by the NCAA is omitted in the film, possibly because it wouldn't have seemed believable to have another obstacle to overcome. When Oher's BYU grades were misplaced, Sean Tuohy threatened to fly in his personal plane to the NCAA offices with the BYU papers and sit in the lobby himself until they were accepted.
  • In the film, Sean Tuohy seems like milquetoast compared to his overpowering wife. His life story makes that seem improbable.
  • The years that it took Oher to be transformed from an ignorant slum kid into someone capable of legitimately graduating from high school seem shortened in the film, probably because of the difficulty of portraying the changes in physical maturity for the young characters.
  • In the film, Oher is correctly portrayed as having tested with an IQ score of around 80, well below average. And he had been so neglected he knew nothing about basic facts (such as what an ocean is) or of social niceties (such as what shaking hands is). Left unmentioned in the film is that after receiving plenty of nurturing, his IQ score was raised 20 to 30 points — making him of higher than average intelligence.
Overall, the film is about as close to what really happened as you could reasonably hope for (and the quip about the Tuohys having a black son before knowing a Democrat wasn't made up for the film). Although The Blind Side has its share of underdog-film clichés (my main complaint about the film, and the reason I'd grade it a B instead of an A), most of them are based on events that really happened. It's an inspiring film — but no less inspiring than the events that inspired it.


Jettboy said...

quote: "The Mormons may be going to hell. But they really are nice people," Sean Tuohy is quoted as saying in the book excerpt.

Wow, that is just wow. That is one of the major problems I have with evangelical Christians is their lack of charity.

Cj said...

Jettboy, it has nothing to do with charity, at least for most of the evangelicals I know. They like me. They want me to go to Heaven. They're genuinely sorry that I've been co-opted by a fanatical cult. They love me as hard as they can, and they want nothing more than to see me change my ways and truly accept Christ as my savior, instead of doing all this other stuff, you know, like trying to live the way He told me to, and thinking that's important.

But I really have no problem with it. I don't see a lack of charity there, only a tendency toward being judgmental and a little bit blind. Actually, I admire evangelicals. The best of them refuse to compromise on what they believe, even to allow people they like to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. I think - I really do think - that if we all end up there together, that they'll be relieved.

Not all of them. But most of them. Most of the ones I know, for sure.

cubaniche said...

As the great Cuban Indian leader Hatuey was about to be burned at the stake, the kind Spanish Christians (after all they were followers of the so called Triune God)offered him salvation if he became a Christian. Hatuey asked if heaven was populated by people like them. They replied in the affirmative. He then said that he preferred to go to hell.

If heaven (which will be on this Earth anyway) is populated by those self righteous modern day pharisees who waste everybody's time determining who is saved and who is not, please send me to hell. I don't want to associate with the rest of christen-dumb!

Tracy Hall Jr said...

To Cubaniche,

Thank you for bringing Hatuey to my attention. Here's a reference:

Joseph Smith had similar feelings about the sectarian view of heaven and hell:

"I see no faults in the Church, and therefore let me be resurrected with the Saints, whether I ascend to heaven or descend to hell, or go to any other place. And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it."
History of the Church 5:517; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 316


Antoinette said...

Sad how some people can show extreme kindness and yet still be so ignorant.Pay him no mind it is God's place to judge and not ours.All we need worry about is what our Heavenly Father wants from us and to live the way Christ would have us live. I know that any true Mormon would forgive Sean because he does not know what he is talking about when it comes to "Mormons" except that they are nice people. Most people don't even realise we are Christians so it does not surprise me how he thinks. We know better so we are more accountable then he is. We know that God knows His sheep and has numbered them. He will make sure that all of them return to him whether they know it right now or not. Peace.

sheldon said...

who does Sean Tuohy think he is God only God will judge who goes to hell I am a member of the church of Jesus Christ of later day saints (mormans) and I am not going to hell because of it I have just lost a lot of respect for Sean!