Forrest Gump’s Blind Side

In a recent post, Melissa Silverstein of Women & Hollywood observed that the Sandra Bullock vehicle, The Blind Side, eclipsed New Moon to become this week’s number one film at the box office, attributing much of the film’s success to lead actress Sandra Bullock and her appeal to female audiences.   That’s probably a fair assessment, as far as it goes.  Both Silverstein and Annie Petersen have been incredibly attentive to Bullock’s star power (as I mentioned a few days ago), arguing that Bullock’s spunky, quirky charm works well for female audiences while not necessarily alienating male viewers.

When I watched Blind Side a few weeks ago, over Thanksgiving, I found the film entertaining enough.  Bullock is charming and the cameos by college football coaches are amusing.  But as I’ve let the film settle and as I’ve witnessed its quiet, but remarkable, surge in popularity (thanks to strong word of mouth), I’m becoming convinced that The Blind Side has become this decade’s Forrest Gump, both in terms of its (ideological) content and its box office prospects.

Both films emphasize cross-racial, southern friendships, in which charcacters are offered forms of earthly redemption through their generosity or kindness to a character who is (or appears to be) mentally challenged, but who can through his simplicity, offer a deeper understanding of the meaning of life.  Gump teaches us through his cryptic aphorisms to accept the simple things in life.  Michael Oher, in The Blind Side, becomes a device for allowing wealthy whites to “rescue” African-American characters living in poverty.  Notably, both films use sports and other forms of male homosocial bonding (i.e., the military) as crucial aspects of the male lead’s psychological development.

The Oher narrative is especially insidious given that it is based loosely upon Oher’s childhood experiences but only works by exaggerating Oher’s passivity and naivete about football and schoolwork.  In short, it reduces Oher into Forrest Gump, as Max Weiss of Baltimore Magazine points out (with Weiss speculating that this may explain Oher’s supposed distaste for the film).  When I first posted this observation on Twitter, I was being somewhat coy, but as the discussion has evolved, I’m finding it increasingly convincing (even to the point that I now see Bullock as a kind of female Lieutenant Dan).

I bring this up not especially to criticize The Blind Side, although I find it problematic, but to point out that the film’s appeal rests, in part, on its ability to reach multiple audiences.  It certainly benefits considerably from Sandra Bullock’s status as a lead–imagine Hillary Swank or any other major actress in her role–but it’s easy to forget how much emphasis was placed on the role of sports in the film’s marketing (and on promoting the film during pro and college football broadcasts). And thanks to a brief conversation about the role of social media in shaping the reception of this film–more on that in the next few days–I’m wondering whether the film’s success can be attributed, in part, to campaigns, in particular among conservative bloggers, such as those writing for Big Hollywood, encouraging their readers to support the film (despite the supposed jab at President Bush).

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