Sandra Bullock has reportedly been left devastated by claims that “The Blind Side,” the inspirational 2009 sports movie that won her an Academy Award, was based on a lie.
“There was so much hard work put into the film that they all thought was the truth and now that has been questioned, it just upsets Sandra to no end that a time in her life was so special, is now shadowed with a completely different perspective,” a source has told the Daily Mail.
Bullock’s positive experience with “The Blind Side” has been challenged this week by claims coming from Michael Oher, the former NFL left tackle whose story inspired the hit 2009 film. Oher alleges in court documents that Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, the White Memphis couple who took him into their home when he was a homeless Black teenager, misled the public about adopting him, including in their 2010 book, and swindled him out of profits they earned from selling the rights to his story to the producers of “The Blind Side,” ESPN reported.
QUINTON AARON as Michael Oher and SANDRA BULLOCK as Leigh Anne Tuohy in Alcon Entertainment’s drama ‘The Blind Side,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Bullock played Leigh Anne Touhy in the film, which earned more than $300 million at the box office and won her a long-awaited best actress Oscar. But Oher alleges that the film, as well as Berkeley author Michael Lewis’ 2006 book, “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game,” were based on a lie. He said the Tuohys misled him about the legal arrangement they worked out so that he could become a member of their family when he was a high school senior.
There are disputes about when Oher learned that the arrangement was a conservatorship, which gave the couple control over his affairs. Under Tennessee law, conservatorships are usually used for people with mental or physical disabilities who lack the capacity to make decisions for themselves, the Washington Post reported. Oher said in his court filings that he only recently learned about the conservatorship, but ESPN also reported that he called the arrangement a conservatorship in his 2011 memoir. ESPN also said he said referred to the Tuohys as his legal guardians and said they told him that the conservatorship was “pretty much the exact same thing” as being adopted.
With their power as conservators, Oher said the Tuohys struck a deal with “The Blind Side” producers that paid them and their two birth children millions of dollars in royalties from the movie, while he got nothing for a story “that would not have existed without him,” ESPN reported. In the years since, the Tuohys have continued calling Oher their adopted son and have used that assertion to promote their foundation as well as Leigh Anne Tuohy’s work as an author and motivational speaker.
For Bullock’s part, “she hates that such a wonderful story, a spectacular movie, and a spectacular time in her life now has been tainted,” a source close to the actor told the Daily Mail. “Now people won’t watch it and if they do, they will have a completely different reaction to its original intention.”
The Daily Mail also said news of Oher’s allegations comes at a hard time for Bullock, whose longtime partner, Bryan Randall, died little more than a week ago, at age 57, following a long struggle with ALS.
Michael Oher during his time with the Carolina Panthers back in 2016. (Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images)
Earlier this week, Oher’s allegations prompted an online backlash against Bullock, with some saying that she should return her Oscar because she starred in a movie that was allegedly based on a lie. But her fans argued back that she was an actress playing a role and couldn’t have known about the conservatorship or how the Tuohys chose to handle — or allegedly mishandle — Oher’s financial affairs.
Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy have likewise been left “heartbroken” by Oher’s allegations, according to their attorney Marty Singer. But as devastated as the couple might feel, they also hit back at Oher, with a strongly worded statement from Singer that called his claims “outlandish,” “absurd” and “hurtful.”
While they acknowledged the conservatorship and that it was still ongoing, they said the retired athlete was given his equal share of the money the family earned from the movie deal, Singer’s statement said. They said the money came from a small advance and a “tiny percentage of net profits.” Singer went further in portraying Oher in a negative light, claiming that he tried to shake the family down for $15 million, threatening to go public with his allegations if they didn’t cut him an eight-figure check.
The Tuohy family’s side of their dealings with Oher was backed by Berkeley author Michael Lewis, who introduced the world to the athlete’s story in his 2006 book, “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.”
“Everybody should be mad at the Hollywood studio system,” Lewis said in an interview with the Washington Post. “It’s outrageous how Hollywood accounting works, but the money is not in the Tuohys’ pockets.”
Lewis also he was “sad” about Oher’s estrangement from the family that took him in. “What I feel really sad about is I watched the whole thing up close,” Lewis said. “They showered him with resources and love. That he’s suspicious of them is breathtaking. The state of mind one has to be in to do that — I feel sad for him.”
When Lewis said he “watched the whole thing up close,” he could be referring to the fact that he is a childhood friend of Sean Tuohy. He hit on writing “The Blind Side” after hearing from his good friend about how he and his wife were helping an impoverished Black teenager who was a talented athlete and who had a bright future as a college and professional football star.
The couple, graduates of University of Mississippi and prominent boosters of its football program, let Oher live in their home, nurtured his football talent and engaged in some rule-bending to help him finish high school and to be eligible to play college football. He eventually chose their alma mater. Lewis’ book reports that the Tuohys “adopted” Oher and makes no mention of a conservatorship, perhaps boosting Oher’s contention that the couple misled the public about the nature of their legal arrangement.
As Lewis told the Washington Post, the Tuohys’ initial money from turning “The Blind Side” into a movie came when Twentieth Century Fox, as it was then known, paid him $250,000 to option his book. Lewis said he split that amount 50-50 with the Tuohy family. The Tuohys said they then divided their share evenly, including amongst their two biological children and Oher.
Fox, however, never made the movie. Instead, the movie was made by Alcon, a small production company backed by Tuohy’s Memphis neighbor, FedEx CEO Fred Smith, Lewis said. In this deal, Lewis said that he and the Tuohys were offered a share of the profits, which amounted to about $350,000 for him and the same amount for the Tuohys. He said the Tuohys planned to share these royalties among the family members, including with Oher. For some reason, Lewis said, Oher declined the royalty checks, so the Tuohy family deposited Oher’s share in a trust fund for Oher’s son.
The Washington Post said that the nature of the relationship between Oher and the Tuohy family has become mired by questions of paternalism, racial dynamics and who gets to profit off someone’s life story. Even though Lewis’ book and “The Blind Side” movie were hits, and the movie itself became a cultural phenomenon, both works have faced criticism that they showcased yet another “white savior” story and failed to properly question whether the Tuohys used their privilege to direct Oher’s life and to potentially profit off his success. In its original review of Lewis’ book, the Los Angeles Times said it “stands as an inadvertent testament to the national blind spot that still prevails when it comes to our racial pathologies.”