When Movies Show You What They Are, Believe Them the First Time

I spent my high school years in a small and conservative-bordering-on-reactionary town in the south, so Evangelical Christianity dominated the culture of my community, and The Passion of the Christ was everywhere in the spring of 2004. The crowds that I saw in my theater for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Spider-Man 2 were nowhere near the packed screens almost daily for this gauntlet of suffering the King of Kings supposedly experienced in the last twelve hours of his life.

Being at an age where I was still figuring out how to read a room, I foolishly believed openly noting the uncomfortably sinister and dehumanizing depictions of Caiaphas and the Pharisees wouldn’t be met with much more than mild pushback from anyone within earshot. Boy was I wrong, and it was the closest any adult had come to full-on physically assaulting me as a teenager. I still vividly remember that teacher’s gritted teeth and bloodshot eyes, ordering me to shut up or I would “regret running your mouth” about this divinely-ordained message movie above criticism from unbelievers like me. This defensiveness was hardly isolated to my neck of the woods; mainstream movie critics like Michael Medved and Roger Ebert also insisted that Mel Gibson had fairly portrayed Christ’s persecutors with no agenda against the Jews. This collective denial was so aggressive and pervasive that it made me doubt my own senses. Was I wrong? Was I reading too much into The Passion of the Christ? Was it possible for every single one of this movie’s fans to be deluding themselves about what I originally thought was patently obvious?

Newmarket Films

I got my answer two years later, when Gibson was pulled over by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy for suspicion of driving under the influence and launched into a drunken rant about how “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” during his arrest. None of the adults who warned me to be quiet about the fifth highest-grossing movie of 2004 had anything to say about this incident, of course. No mea culpas. No attempt to reconsider or concede these points that enraged them so much when they were first brought up.

I wasn’t “running my mouth.” I wasn’t imagining things. My instincts were right. I was browbeaten into disregarding my eyes, ears, and brain from people who just did not want to confront how they passively accepted the twisted agenda of its director, whose odious beliefs are so deeply ingrained into his personality that they can’t help but be woven into the visual language of his movies.

So when I saw The Blind Side as a college student three years later, I learned to trust my instincts this time. I knew by that point that there was no good faith in the hysterical defenses of that movie’s patronizing white savior racism, and I was under no obligation to deny what I saw with my own eyes. I knew that, eventually, the truth would come out about this rich white woman presenting herself as someone who single-handedly rescued a poor helpless black boy and oh-so-graciously engineered his rise to college football stardom at, oh, what a coincidence, her alma mater! Maybe not before its star coasted to winning the Academy Award for Best Lead Actress, maybe not next year, or the year after that. But someday, I knew we would all discover the real reason for The Blind Side quickly moving on from the Mean Black Lady Bureaucrat’s accusations in the closest the movie ever comes to anything resembling a meaningful character conflict: because what she said was actually true, and John Lee Hancock knew he couldn’t get away with pretending these hugely problematic elements of his so-called “adoption” were never brought up, and so just touches on them briefly before sprinting to an easy reconciliation scene that reassures us the Tuohys are totally on the up-and-up because… the movie said so. I was barely old enough to legally drink alcohol and even I could sense something was fishy about all of this.

And here we are. The truth has finally come out:

I truly hope that the Tuohy family is struck by some measure of contrition over allegedly misleading him into a conservatorship dishonestly portrayed as an adoption in the Oscar-winning movie. I root for Michael Oher in setting the record straight about his own story. But more than anything… I just feel so damned tired of this routine. I’m tired of having to drag the You Just Don’t Get It Brigade, kicking and screaming, into a begrudging acknowledgment of what is plainly obvious about these kinds of movies, long after they make tons of money and win a bunch of awards. It is so exhausting having to hear from reactionaries, time and time again, peacocking their support of a cinematic lie feeding into their comforting, simple-minded conception of the world before they all suddenly vanish when those lies are exposed.

“You’re changing that boy’s life!”

“No… he’s changing mine!”

How? When? In what way have you observably changed as a person since you decided to make Michael Oher your personal project without bothering to ask him if he even wanted to play football for the university that you and your husband are financial boosters for? These questions are not important to “Real America,” where individual acts of charity are treated as the ultimate solution to inequality, racism, and pervasive child abuse and neglect, and the possibility that saintly Leigh Anne Tuohy could do far more for impoverished black teenagers if she stopped voting for the politicians who have made the Tennessee foster care system one of the worst ones in the nation and just paid her fair share of taxes is never even considered. Because that doesn’t sell to well-off suburban white people who posted treacly Facebook odes to George Floyd three years ago but nowadays scream at “groomer” teachers and accuse librarians of pushing Critical Race Theory. This is a movie designed to make their audience feel like heroes for the mere act of watching it. Just like muscling through two hours of Jim Caviezel being tortured. Or watching that same notoriously deranged actor pretend to rescue children being trafficked by Sophisticated Shadowy Cartels as opposed to rescuing them from trusted members of their own communities abusing unchecked power granted to them by existing power structures that he supports.

Angel Studios

Yes, dear readers, this is as fitting a time as any to point out that Sound of Freedom is a pandering hyperconservative fever dream in the exact same mold, coddling the juvenile fantasies of bad-faith hacks who desperately want to sell this lie that macho vigilantism will protect children from harm so they can avoid doing any actual work or making any real sacrifices to ensure children are genuinely protected from exploitation. It does not remotely surprise me that one of its financial backers has been arrested and charged with accessory to child kidnapping, nor was I especially taken aback by the announcement that the film’s lionized main character, Tim Ballard, was recently forced to resign from the anti-trafficking organization he founded under pretty suspicious circumstances. But dedicating an entire article to addressing Ballard’s self-serving cock and bull story would just lend it more undeserved internet buzz from QAnon-adjacent fanatics who thrive on attention, so instead, it’s in a brief paragraph nested inside an opinion piece about an entirely different movie. By me, to add insult to injury. Not even one of the members of this site’s leadership team. So you Sound of Freedom stans who have been haranguing us on social media to cover this movie failed on two counts: you got a measly single paragraph write-up on it from someone who, if we’re being honest, is near the bottom of the Awards Radar hierarchy, and it’s not even the main subject of the article. Sorry not sorry.

Anyway, where was I? Oh right, the Michael Oher revelations. Entirely predictable. Even solely within the highly-embellished movie treating him like some trained show dog instead of a human being, it was stupidly obvious that he was being taken advantage of by opportunistic millionaires. Trust what your intuition is telling you when you watch mental opiates like The Blind Side and The Passion of the Christ and Sound of Freedom. You were not wrong when your brain told you something was “off” while you were seeing them. The people who are dependent on entire media ecosystems hermetically sealing them from anything outside of their vague resentments and desires for simple answers to complex problems were wrong, and continue to be wrong, and you don’t owe them more credence than your own instincts.


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Written by Robert Hamer

Formerly an associate writer for recently-retired Award Circuit, Robert Hamer is a military veteran who now spends his time obsessing over movies and pop politics.

He is returning to film and awards season commentary to return to a sense of normalcy in these plague-ridden times of rising fascism and late-stage capitalist dystopia. Join him, won't you, in these somewhat unorthodox attempts at cinematic therapy?

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