Movies often are about escape and adventure. We root for the underdogs and cheer their success. Sometimes heroes beat the odds with dazzling superpowers. But many of the great cinematic stories come from a uniquely American well, where real life trumps even the best fiction and inspires us to strive toward our better selves.
The headlines today are rightly focused on the box office success of New Moon, but buried in the news is another remarkable story -- the quiet outperformance of a film called The Blind Side. Based on the Michael Lewis book, it tells the true story of Michael Oher, a young African American man who while homeless on the streets of Memphis in high school was taken in by an affluent white family and went on to become a first round draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens.
I defy anyone to see this movie and not be profoundly moved and inspired. Sandra Bullock is sweet charity incarnate as adoptive mom Leigh Anne Tuohy. And, newcomer Quinton Aaron holds his own as a young Oher, whom his newfound family likens to the gentle hero of the classic children's book "Ferdinand the Bull" (news, I'm sure, to many a defensive player on the receiving end of Oher's swiftness and strength).
The movie does a deft job with difficult circumstances. A mother who is alive but absent. A father who passes away but was never really known. The overwhelming 'slip through the cracks' fate of teens in similar situations. The depictions of homelessness are especially poignant, with the young Oher picking up sacks of left-behind popcorn after a high-school game and seeking shelter in a 24-hour laundromat, underscoring the sheer hopelessness of his circumstances.
Yet the movie soars by resisting the temptation toward self-congratulation. Quite the contrary, it passionately insists that, as much as Oher gained from the kindness of others, he returned it 10-fold in the richly fulfilling relationship he forged with his new family.
Asked why his wife insisted he pull the car over to the side of the road that fateful winter night, Sean Tuohy explained simply: "Because he needed some clothes. That's all it really was. Then he needed a place to sleep. The depths of need never stopped. And she got so far into it, she couldn't get out of it. And she fell in love with him."
As country singer (and promising actor) Tim McGraw, who plays the Tuohy patriarch, put it -- if it weren't a true story, "then you wouldn't believe it. I wouldn't believe it." The family that stopped on a cold winter night. The teacher who took an interest. The high school football coach who intervened on Oher's behalf. What makes each of these characters so powerful is that they are portrayals of real people who stepped into the void and changed the course of this young man's life.
It's a story we as a nation need right now. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that nearly 50 million Americans are struggling to get enough to eat amid today's record unemployment. That's the largest number since the USDA began counting, and it includes 1 in 4 kids. Our nation has its share today of Michael Ohers. The question before us all is do we have our share of Tuohys?
Repeated throughout the movie -- from Oher to his new and increasingly extended family and back again -- is a simple, reassuring mantra, "I've got your back." In a time of such need and want, it's an important and uplifting motto for us all to embrace. The Blind Side leaves you with an infectious desire to not turn a blind eye, but rather to do something that matters in your own community -- to find our own way to pull over to the side of the road and make a difference for our fellow man, yes, but also for ourselves.
Dan Glickman is a former U.S. secretary of agriculture in the Clinton Administration. He now serves as Chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America.
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