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Five Eye-Rolling White Savior Movies

As Michael Oher sues over 'The Blind Side' portrayal and financial discrepancies, we dissect five contentious examples of the 'White Savior' narrative that challenge Hollywood's representation of racial dynamics.

Cinema is a powerful medium that reflects and influences society's perceptions and narratives. However, not all portrayals on the silver screen are laudable, and some can be problematic. One recurring trope is the "White Savior," where white characters take center stage to rescue or uplift marginalized communities, often reducing the agency and depth of those they aim to help. The 2009 film  "The Blind Side" has recently come under fire after Michael Oher, the former NFL player whose life was based on the film, filed a lawsuit alleging that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy deceived him into signing conservatorship documents that he thought were his adoption papers.

Oher also claimed that the Tuohys, including their two biological children, each received $225,000 and 2.5% of the film's "defined net proceeds.” He maintained that the Tuohys “collectively received millions of dollars” while he received nothing. Regarding the lawsuit, Oher is seeking the termination of the Tuohy's conservatorship. Oher aims to prohibit the family from utilizing his name and likeness, generating profits from his narrative, and is pursuing both unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Considering this new development, we are delving into five eye-rolling examples of "White Savior" movies that have garnered criticism for portraying racial dynamics and social issues.

  1. "The Blind Side" (2009)

    Starting with "The Blind Side," this controversial film tells the story of Oher, a homeless Black teenager who finds stability and success through the generosity of a white family. While it champions the idea of helping those in need, it has faced criticism for oversimplifying the complexities of systemic issues and portraying racial dynamics through a narrow lens. Oher has blasted the film for portraying him as illiterate and delving into other tropes.

    The movie landed Sandra Bullock a Best Actress Academy Award.

  2. "Dangerous Minds" (1995)

    "Dangerous Minds" stars Michelle Pfeiffer as a white teacher assigned to teach a group of troubled inner-city students. While it attempts to address educational inequality and social challenges, it's been criticized for framing the white teacher as the only hope for the students' redemption. Nonetheless, the film was a box office, raking in 179.5 million.

  3. "The Help" (2011)

    Set against the civil rights movement backdrop, "The Help" explores the relationships between Black maids and their white employers in Jackson, Mississippi. While it received acclaim for its performances -- especially Viola Davis -- it was also criticized for centering the white characters as the catalysts for change, overshadowing the voices and struggles of the Black women in the film. 

    Octavia Spencer earned an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as Minnie.

  4. "Gran Torino" (2008)

    Clint Eastwood stars in and directs "Gran Torino," a film where his character, a retired and racist Korean War veteran, forms an unlikely friendship with a Hmong teenager who tries to steal his Gran Torino. While it portrays the eventual understanding between the characters, it's been faulted for perpetuating stereotypes and relying on the white character to resolve conflicts.

  5. "Freedom Writers" (2007)

    In "Freedom Writers," Hilary Swank was a teacher who inspired her racially diverse students -- which included R&B singer Mario -- through the power of writing. Despite its intentions to address social issues, the film has been critiqued for prioritizing the white teacher's journey over her students'.

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