The Blindside: Portrayal of Disability Paper

In the movie “The Blindside,” Michael Oher is a homeless, African-American teen who has been abandoned by his biological family, and is taken in and adopted by a white family. He has drifted out of the school system for years, has a mother who is a drug addict, and has a father who has been in and out of prison his whole life. Lacking the guidance every child needs, he struggles to read and write, and has trouble forming the right words and speaking at times. Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, Michael’s now legal guardians, begin to transform both his life and theirs. Growing to love and appreciate Michael’s tremendous, advantageous size and protective instincts, the Tuohys and his tutor not only realize his potential as a student, but on the football field.

With this realization, they set out to make Michael both a star student and player at Wingate high school in Memphis, Tennessee. In this film, relationship development is a prominent theme throughout, and changes the Tuohys and Michael’s relationship as a family and as individuals dramatically. Despite this drastic change, all of it was for the better and in the end improved the lives of everyone. There are many models of disability in this film that represent the different relationships Michael experienced and established. The four models of disability that are portrayed in this film are the biomedical, environmental, functional, and sociopolitical models.

An example of how the biomedical is portrayed in this film are when Michael is helped by his tutor for his learning disability. Throughout school, Michael struggled with written tests and assignments, and his tutor helped him pass his classes which made him able to get scholarships for football. After this, he was able to play for the Ole Miss Rebels football program, and eventually was recruited professionally for the Baltimore Ravens. With this opportunity, Michael was finally able to feel like anything other than a failure and less stigmatized.

Two examples of how the environmental is portrayed in this film are when Mrs. Tuohy is with her friends at lunch and calls Michael her son, and when Collins moves away from her friends in the library to sit with Michael. The idea of physical appearance as a pressure is significant in this film, and a problem for almost all the characters, seeing that Michael was not what people expected to see. Physical appearance in this film is the difference between the social classes, the economic standing, the way characters are treated, and the way they treat each other.

There is the big difference between the Tuohys and Michael, both in race and in size. When Leigh Anne calls Michael her son, her friends think it’s some sort of charity work that she’s doing, but she’s dead serious. Although their reactions place increased responsibility on Leigh Anne, they’re realistic because Michael is from the complete opposite side of life. The discrimination he faced not just from her friends, but from almost everyone, and knowing he was a responsibility and had to be “protected” made his disability worse. With Collins, her friends give looks of disapproval to her and him studying together. Of course, their reactions are also realistic. Michael is not only of a different race, but huge and much bigger than any of the other people in this film. Two examples of how the functional model is portrayed in this film are when Mrs. Tuohy helps Michael understand what he is supposed to be playing, how he should look at the players as his family, and that it should be like he is protecting his family when he is playing the game. She then tells his football coach that yelling at him won’t do any good, and focuses on how she can make the sport more enjoyable for him and how he can overcome his limitations. This scene shows effective communication on Leigh Anne’s part and how it Michael’s ability to engage in desired activities is improved. Another scene that represented this model and depicted disclosure was when Mrs. Tuohy asked Michael to tell her everything she should know about him. Initially, he looked at her and said nothing, but then finally said the one thing that he didn’t like was being called Big Mike, so now on he was Michael to the family.

This represents this model because even the smallest amount of disclosure improved his quality of life by established trust and acceptance. Lastly, two examples of how the sociopolitical model is portrayed in this film are the two biggest listening scenes. The critical one that stands out is toward the end of the film when Mrs. Tuohy is sitting down with Michael and asks him what school he really wants to go to. By doing this, not only is she acknowledging his civil rights as a person with disability, but she is placing a responsibility on his investigators to change their approaches. She knows that he was not asked and was persuaded to attend Ole Miss, so by questioning him she is showing that she truly cares and wants to listen to what he has to say. The other scene that is an important listening scene is when an NCAA investigator is sitting with Michael and asking him questions. When he says that she asks a lot of questions but never asked why he wanted to go to Ole Miss, she doesn’t say anything, and when he says he wants to go there because it’s where his family goes to school she still remains silent.

This is an important scene because it shows how although people should adjust their perspectives due to the passage of the ADA, they don’t always. However, the investigator did adjust her perspectives to an extent by considering family is important to him, and that he is capable of making his own decisions. All of these examples tie into our class discussions because although it took some time, people finally began to see that Michel participating in everyday activities and interactions wasn’t something inspirational, and that him being unable to do things meant he was only human. People close to Michael and even acquaintances started to do things for him due to the kindness of their hearts, not because they viewed him as a burden or different. They were able to break away from the ideas that he lacked a moral sense and wanted sympathy, realizing that he could restrain himself from hurting others and himself physically, mentally, and emotionally, just because they were able bodied and he wasn’t. The conscious or unconscious take home message about disability may be that until you have a personal experience with someone with a disability, you’re never going to truly understand what it’s like to be in their shoes.

I also think it may be that people with disabilities shouldn’t be seen as burdens and embraced for their differences of all aspects, since that is an idea that is promoted by the majority of society. I mainly chose this film because the scenarios depict great examples of nonverbal communication, disclosure, and realistic ways that people in society react. I thought this film portrayed disability very well, and it meant even more to me, just for the fact that it was based on a true story. I thought it was so meaningful how even though Michael received scholarship offers from colleges in Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, Auburn, and South Carolina, he still decided to play for the University of Mississippi, which was the alma mater of Leigh Anne and Sean. It was a very nice gesture to thank them for taking care of him, and raising him to be a big part of who he is today.

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