Everyone loves a real-life triumph story. The perseverance of the human spirit to overcome any obstacle put in its way. Someone put in a bad situation but they push themselves past it and accomplish their dreams. Yes. We all want it. It makes our hearts go pitter-patter. Whether we like to admit it or not we drop a few tears in the darkness of the movie theater and feel a little lighter as we walk out the doors back into our real lives. One story that had people in amazement was the story of Michael Oher. A young child who was left to his own survival would be taken in by Sean and Leigh Ann Tuohy who pushed him to get his life on track and helped him achieve the impossible and eventually become not only a college graduate but a highly paid NFL football player.
With any true story there is always a side of the story that no one sees. As they like to say on True Crime shows: “Everything was wonderful . . . Until it wasn’t.” With his life turned into an Oscar-winning movie everything seemed to be going well for the football star. Well . . . until it wasn’t. Let’s find out the true story of The Blind Side here on WTF Really Happened To This Movie.
Michael Oher was one of twelve children. His mother Denise Oher suffered from alcohol and drug addiction. His father Michael Jerome Williams spent a lot of time in prison and would end up being murdered during one of his stints. This left Oher being shipped around to numerous foster homes and even bouts of homelessness. His education would be spotty at best and he had to repeat a couple of grades. Life would finally stabilize when he entered Briarcrest Christian High School and met the Tuohy family.
They would open their home to him and help him catch up on his education while also pushing him to create a better life for himself. The family would end up adopting Oher as their official third child. Football would end up being his outlet to get the life he wanted and he would end up being a first-round draft pick for the NFL as he exited college.
At least that’s how it was portrayed in the book The Blind Side: Evolution Of A Game by Michael Lewis who was a family friend of the Tuohys. Film producers would approach him about turning the story into a film and a deal was struck. No one thought it would end up as an Oscar winner and be as successful as it was.
The film cast Sandra Bullock Leigh Ann Tuohy who would be the anchor for Oher (played in the film by Quinton Aaron) to push him forward towards a better life. Made on a $29 million dollar budget the film would end up being a monster hit and earn over $300 million dollars. Bullock would earn an Oscar win for her performance as Leigh Ann Tuohy and critics would lavish praise upon the movie.
There were a few hiccups that would later come out about the movie. Oher himself said he was not a big fan of how he was portrayed in the film. It made the character seem to know nothing about the sport of Football and the overall depiction of him. He said it made him look more like Forrest Gump than how smart he actually was. While he had no stable education history when he was younger he says he did take to it once it was available to him. He would graduate from college with a degree in Criminal Justice. He had been a lifelong fan of football and knew everything about it until the character in the film. Even with this Oher would say he still liked the message the film presented and hoped it would inspire others.
One organization that might have agreed with him was the Briarcrest Christian High School. When they read the script before shooting they refused to allow the use of their name. They were concerned by the idea that any of their staff would express doubt about Oher’s learning disability. The film kept the school colors but changed the name.
A general annoyance about the film would pop up that it plays once again into the white savior trope. It feeds into the idea in films that people of color can’t succeed on their own unless a white person swoops in to provide everything they need to accomplish their goal. While it’s hard to argue against that idea while watching the movie the fact that it’s based on a true story helped squash a lot of those complaints.
The film would go on to be a beacon that anything is possible and Oher would enjoy a lucrative NFL career from 2009 to 2017. He would even write his autobiography I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to The Blind Side and Beyond in 2011 becoming a best-selling author himself. The story seemed to inspire a lot of people and helped those involved become a household name.
This is why it was surprising in August of 2023 that it began to be reported that Michael Oher was filing a petition in a Tennessee court that the Tuohy’s lied to him and never legally adopted him. Oher would say that they had tricked him into agreeing to a conservatorship and signing away the rights to his life story. He claimed that he never received any royalties from the film but everyone in the Tuohy family did including Sean and Leigh Ann’s two children.
He would say that he had only learned in February of 2023 that he was not legally part of the Tuohy family and felt embarrassed that he did not know about it until then. His legal team asked the court to immediately end the conservatorship and bar the family from using his name and likeness to financially gain from his story. In addition to a full accounting of what the Tuohy’s earned from his name and to be repaid in full. His claim was that the family had made millions off the film while he had seen none of it.
The lawyer for the Tuohy family would respond saying that Oher’s claims were hurtful and absurd. They claimed they had not made any money from the film and the only payment they had ever received was from the author of the book Michael Lewis who shared half his payment with the family. It was then split between each family member including Oher in the amount of $14000 each. They say they never received any other payments and were happy to end the conservatorship if that is what Oher wanted.
They claimed that Oher had known about the conservatorship from the beginning as he was unable to be adopted at the time since he was over 18. His biological mother was even present for the official hearing on the situation because they wanted to make sure the whole thing was above board.
Their lawyer seemed to insinuate that this was not the first time Oher had tried to pursue this legal action. They said he had tried before and none of his legal team would go through with it once they saw the evidence for themselves. Also they claimed he had an upcoming book tour and was trying to drum up some controversy to promote it.
The harshest statement seems to paint Oher as a blackmailer stating that he threatened to plant a negative story about them in the press unless they paid him $15 million dollars. The Tuohy’s never paid him and this lawsuit seemed to be the result.
Perhaps the strangest controversy about the whole situation is that an internet campaign began to spread that Sandra Bullock should return her Oscar that she won for the role of Leigh Ann Tuohy in the film. It seemed to indicate that some internet communities thought it was another symbol of Oher being taken advantage of. Her co-star Quenton Aaron would come to her defense saying “To make a statement like that doesn’t make any sense…Sandra Bullock didn’t have anything to do with the real story that we’re reading as of right now…She gave a brilliant performance…And that shouldn’t be tarnished for something that had nothing to do with her.”
This outrage even caused the producers to speak up saying that everything in the film was authentic and showcased how the generosity of the Tuohy family helped Oher improve his life and push him to the heights he had achieved. They also denied that the Tuohy family was ever paid millions of dollars. A small sum had been paid to a talent agency that represented the Tuohy’s and Oher which seemed to back up the claims that the family had stated about the amount of money they had earned from the film.
On September 29th Judge Kathleen Gomes terminated the conservatorship which the Tuohys agreed to do. When going over the case Judge Gomes said she was surprised this case was ever pushed forward as such conservatorships were usually only granted for people with disabilities which Oher does not have. When asked about the situation Quinton Aaron said “My prayers go out to both parties and I hope they could come to some kind of resolve that makes ’em whole or just get past this without the complete destruction of their relationship.” Indeed, the story doesn’t seem likely to have a happy ending with the Tuohy family now claiming that Oher is extorting them for $15 million.
Family relationships can be tricky even without any of the legal webs that conservatorships or adoptions can bring. As of this recording it still seems like more will be happening in this case and hopefully the public can get a fuller picture of what actually happened in this case.