Michael Oher's conservatorship claims prove The Blind Side's white saviour complex never aged well

Ayaan Paul
Ayaan PaulAug 16, 2023 | 14:13

Michael Oher's conservatorship claims prove The Blind Side's white saviour complex never aged well

The retired NFL offensive lineman Michael Oher, whose remarkable journey from foster care to football stardom inspired the Oscar-winning movie The Blind Side, has recently made shocking allegations against his adoptive parents, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy. Oher asserted that he was deceived into an exploitative conservatorship that enriched the Tuohys at his expense.

The movie on Oher

In The Blind Side, Oher's story is portrayed as a tale of redemption and triumph over adversity. The film portrays the Tuohy family as benevolent figures who take in the young Oher and provide him with a loving home, enabling him to harness his athletic potential. He goes from struggling in school to becoming a football sensation, in a textbook underdog story. 


But the courtroom saga paints a different portrait. Now 37 years old, Oher claims that the heartwarming narrative depicted in the 2009 film was far from reality and insists he unwittingly signed a conservatorship deal as he turned 18, giving the Tuohys control over his life and career.

The lawsuit

In a lawsuit filed in Shelby County, Tennessee, Oher alleges that he was never formally adopted by the Tuohys and that his relationship with them was not as it appeared.

The agreement allowed the Tuohys to assume control over his personal and financial affairs, giving them the power to make business decisions on his behalf. This alleged manipulation effectively enabled the Tuohys to exploit Oher's name and image for their financial gain.

The court filing reveals that the Tuohys used the conservatorship to broker business deals that profited their own family while sidelining Oher. As Oher's success on the football field skyrocketed, culminating in him becoming a two-time All-American at the University of Mississippi, the Tuohys are accused of capitalising on his achievements to their advantage. 

Photo: Getty Images

They reportedly negotiated contracts that distributed earnings, royalties, and profits from Oher's story among themselves and their biological children. Meanwhile, Oher contends that he received nothing from these deals, despite his pivotal role in the narrative that fuelled the film's success.

Not all that great a relationship

The lawsuit's language suggests that the Tuohys exploited Oher's vulnerability, capitalising on his perceived naivety. It alleges that they saw in Oher not a foster child in need of support but a "gullible young man whose athletic talent could be exploited for their own benefit."

This narrative paints a starkly different picture from the heartwarming portrayal of the Tuohys in The Blind Side, revealing a potentially darker side to their intentions.

The financial windfall resulting from the film's success adds another layer of complexity to the allegations. The Blind Side was a massive hit, amassing over $300 million at the global box office and generating substantial revenue from home video sales.

Photo: Getty Images

According to court documents, the Tuohys negotiated a contract that granted them a substantial portion of the film's net proceeds, along with additional upfront payments and royalties. In contrast, Oher contends that he received no compensation despite being the central figure in the story.

  • The lawsuit seeks to dismantle the conservatorship established by the Tuohys, thereby ending their control over Oher's personal and financial matters. 
  • Oher also aims to prevent the Tuohys from exploiting his name and likeness for financial gain.
  • A critical aspect of the lawsuit involves the demand for an accurate accounting of the earnings generated through the exploitation of his story. 
  • Oher's legal team is pushing for him to receive his rightful share of the profits, along with unspecified damages.

The Tuohys will 'respond in court'

In response to the allegations, the Tuohys' lawyer has stated that they will address the claims in court while declining further commentary. However, Sean Tuohy, in an interview with The Daily Memphian, offered some insight into their perspective. 

  • He mentioned that the conservatorship was established to satisfy the NCAA as Oher considered attending the University of Mississippi. 
  • He also asserted that they would end the conservatorship if that is what Oher desires, indicating a willingness to cooperate.

The white saviour complex

While the movie was celebrated for its heartwarming portrayal of Oher's story, it has also faced growing scrutiny for its perpetuation of the "white saviour complex", a narrative trope that has been criticised for oversimplifying complex racial dynamics and reinforcing racial stereotypes.

The white saviour complex refers to a narrative pattern in which a white person assumes the role of a heroic figure who rescues or "saves" a person of colour from their struggles. 

In The Blind Side, Leigh Anne Tuohy (played by Sandra Bullock) takes Oher (played by Quinton Aaron) under her wing, providing him with a stable home and the opportunity to excel in football. While the real-life Tuohy family did indeed play a role in Oher's life, the film's depiction has been criticised for oversimplifying and romanticising their involvement.

  • The issue with the white saviour complex lies in its tendency to place white characters at the forefront of stories about people of colour, thereby overshadowing the lived experiences and agency of the individuals from marginalised communities.
  • Critics argue that this narrative dynamic can perpetuate harmful stereotypes, suggest that people of colour are helpless without white intervention, and downplay systemic issues that contribute to their struggles.

In the context of The Blind Side, the film's portrayal of Oher's transformation under the guidance of the Tuohy family has been viewed as fitting the white saviour narrative. This portrayal could potentially undermine the agency and resilience that Oher himself exhibited in overcoming challenges. 

The film's commercial success and its Oscar win for Sandra Bullock's performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy have been seen as indications of how the white saviour narrative resonated with audiences and Academy voters.

Photo: Getty Images

Over time, as conversations around representation, diversity, and racial dynamics have gained prominence in the film industry and society at large, criticisms of The Blind Side have intensified. The film's depiction of Oher's experiences and its presentation of the Tuohys as instrumental figures in his success have come under greater scrutiny. Critics argue that the movie glosses over complex issues related to race, privilege, and socioeconomic disparities, while centering the narrative on the actions of the white characters.

Moreover, the film's release coincided with a period of increased awareness about the problematic nature of the white saviour trope. As audiences became more attuned to the complexities of racial dynamics in storytelling, The Blind Side faced greater pushback for its portrayal of Oher's story. 

With the legal battle now unfolding, the narrative that once captivated audiences in The Blind Side is now finally being revisited with newfound scepticism, and rightly so.

Last updated: August 16, 2023 | 14:13
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