When “The Blind Side,” was released in theaters in 2009, it was a roaring success which grossed over $300 million and stole the hearts of many. The film quickly became the feel-good-movie of the year and went on to snag multiple Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and awards, with one of the stars of the movie, Sandra Bullock, taking home an Academy Award for Best Actress. However, behind the camera, things weren’t as perfect as they seemed. While audiences of the film were automatically touched by Michael Oher’s story, it turns out that everything they were seeing in the film wasn’t exactly as it appeared to be.
For this reason, the real Michael Oher, who was played by Quinton Aaron, was not so happy with the outcome of the film, particularly with the way in which he was portrayed. There were some major inaccuracies in the film which wrongly outlined the course of Michael’s life. When you take these fallacies along with the usual drama involved in creating a major motion picture, the result isn’t always so pleasant. So, get ready, because we’re about to dive into what really happened in Michael Oher’s life.
Less Than Happy
It’s no secret that The Blind Side was a major success. Movie goers loved it, critics were relatively satisfied, and the film took home many awards and nominations. However, there was one person in particular who was left unhappy with the film’s outcome and it’s the most important person of all, the one whom without him, there wouldn’t be a film at all. Of course, we’re talking about none other than Michael Oher himself.
Michael Oher couldn’t stand to watch the film. While actor Quinton Aaron gave a solid performance and Sandra Bullock a winning one as well, Oher felt that the film did not realistically depict his life. Not only did he feel like the movie didn’t really show who he was, but even worse than that, he felt like the movie had serious consequences for him and his career. Since the release of the film, Oher’s career has taken a turn for the worse and he has been cut from two different teams in the past six years.
In 2015, Michael told ESPN: “I’m not trying to prove anything. People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie. They don’t really see the skills and the kind of player I am. That’s why I get downgraded so much, because of something off the field. This stuff, calling me a bust, people saying if I can play or not … that has nothing to do with football. It’s something else off the field. That’s why I don’t like that movie.”
Anybody who knows the real Michael Oher, knows that his character in real life is not quite like his character in the movie. While Aaron gave a good performance as an actor, the film didn't do the most accurate job at portraying the real Big Mike. So, it’s understandable why Michael Oher wasn’t so enthusiastic about the film.
While in the film, Michael’s character comes off as shy and reserved, in reality, Michael Oher is quite different than this. He is also good at laughing things off and not taking himself too seriously plus he does it all with a smile. This is very different than his detached and introverted character in the film. In an interview, Michael shared “I’ve always had that fire and passion in me on the field. You can’t put aggression into a person. It’s impossible. Either you have that toughness and aggression or you don’t.”
His teammates have also graced him for his fun-loving nature and passion. Apparently, it was a much better sell for the movie's producers to paint a picture of this naive poor black teen who is timid.
Life Before the Tuohy Family
The film is very explicit with Michael Oher’s troubled childhood. In the film, Michael was homeless and didn’t have a stable family structure. This is the shortened version of a very long and difficult childhood. Of course, the film had to cut it down because there’s only so much that can be covered in a two hour film.
Oher did really have a difficult upbringing. He was neglected by his mother who abused drugs and alcohol. Oher shared in an interview about his mother that "She wasn't really around too much, I took care of myself most of the time." He was one of twelve children. They grew up in a broken home in Hurt Village, a housing project located in crime filled North Memphis. Oher's father was in prison, where he ended up getting murdered. Michael didn't learn of his father's death until three months after it happened, in part because it took time for his father to be identified.
When Oher Met the Tuohy Family
In the movie, the Tuohy family first meets Michael when he’s outside in the rain, soaking wet and freezing. They quickly form a relationship and Oher moves in with the family, quickly getting the opportunity for a fresh start. However, the real story wasn't as easy as that.
The Tuohy family did in fact see Michael Oher on the side of the road (in reality, this happened on a cold morning during Thanksgiving break and not at night like the movie shows). Leigh Anne and her husband saw Michael get off a bus in the snow dressed in cutoff jeans and a t-shirt. The day after seeing Michael outside in a t-shirt, Leigh Anne picked him up at Briarcrest and took him shopping. She later commented in an interview "I just think Michael needed somebody, and it was so evident that there was nobody in his life. It just broke my heart."
So, in reality, Leigh Anne didn't offer Michael a place to stay right away and actually, it took months before the Tuohys welcome Michael into their home. During that time, Michael continued to stay with Tony Henderson (Big Tony) and at least five other families provided him with a place to stay when his coaches realized he didn't have a home. But, the relationship with the Tuohy family took time to develop, and didn’t happen at the pace of a two-hour film. Michael Oher said, "When I moved in with Leigh Anne and Sean, I felt loved, like part of a family. In the other houses I didn't feel like part of the family. I didn't feel like they wanted me there."
Leigh Anne’s Day Job
The real Leigh Anne Tuohy worked as an interior designer. You may have caught on that in the film, Leigh Anne mentioned Patrick Ramsey as one of her clients. If you were wondering what these two facts have to do with one another, read on.
Leigh Anne Tuohy worked for the Washington Redskins quarterback. While this isn’t mentioned in the film, the reference she made about Patrick Ramsey wasn’t for nothing. It was a mention that only football fans would be able to figure out, and of course, those who are up to date on players’ home improvement plans.
In reality, when it came time to dress the 300+ pound Michael, Leigh Anne contacted Patrick Ramsey. She gave Ramsey Michael's measurements and he called her back a few days later telling her she got the measurements wrong. When she told him that she had taken the measurements herself and maybe Patrick got them wrong, Patrick read them back to her. Nope, he had them right. “There’s no one on our team as big as he is,” Ramsey said.
In the movie, race was referenced a few times; once by Sean Tuohy when he confesses that he can’t believe he has a black son, and a second time when a player jokes with Oher during a game. But, during the film, Oher's struggle with race inequality is not given the importance that is deserved and Oher felt like the film didn't show even the half of it.
In real life, Michael Oher and the Tuohy family sacrificed a lot because of the choices they made. While the Touhy family did enjoy having Oher around and were happy to give him a home, Leigh Anne understood that people in the community might not be so happy with the decision.
In The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, the book, Leigh Anne explained, “We knew people were going to have issues because we had a daughter exactly the same age.” It turns out that she received questions from people all over town, in shops, restaurants, and school events. Being the boss lady that she is, Leigh Ann eventually started to hand out a single piece of advice to people who confronted her: “You just need to mind your own business. You worry about your own life and I’ll worry about mine.”
Nonetheless, Oher and his adoptive family got along quite well, although the differences between them were unmistakable.
Not Exactly Home Sweet Home
Again, the film's need to condense Oher's life resulted in a skewed version of the football star's story. In the film, it seems that Michael Oher integrates into the Tuohy family right away, with the Tuohys grateful that he’s the perfect son and sibling and Oher respectively, grateful for the warm parents he never had. But, don’t let the Hollywood Embellishment get to your head, things are not as the film made it seem, which is only natural, given the circumstances.
Both Oher and the Tuohys had their doubts. There was friction between the two parties, which perhaps never completely dissipated. Still, the relationship between them wasn’t horrible. Oher still thinks very highly of the family who took him in. Plus, he did bond well with S.J. and Collins Tuohy. However, it was a relationship that took time to nurture, and not one which developed over night. The illusion that the director created in the film is heart-warming, there's no denying that. And, they sure did a good job at drawing people into the film. But, it wasn’t quite like this in reality.
The Story Behind Oher`s Mentor
In the film, it seems that Michael Oher developed a love for football thanks to Sandra Bullock, who plays Leigh Ann Tuohy. While she did play a pivotal role in helping to jump start Oher’s football career, he didn’t learn everything from her nor did he get all his training from her.
The real Michael Oher felt that the director wanted to depict a moving mentor-and-mentee story, and thus chose to leave out some important details regarding what Oher himself did to reach his achievements. He feels that the film didn’t include the hard work that he had to put into his career himself in order to reach his goals. Michael Oher has said "I've been studying, really studying, the game since I was a little kid."
Sandra Bullock Almost Was Not In The Movie
Sandra Bullock received rave reviews for her performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side. So rave, that she even took home an Oscar and Golden Globe award for her performance. However, even Bullock had some uncertainties about the role.
Bullock was offered to play the role several times but she declined because she was nervous to play a devout Christian. Bullock could not be persuaded to accept the role, that is, until she met Leigh Anne Tuohy in real life. Following that event, she at once decided it was her mission to be a part of the story. However, she wasn’t the only actress being considered for the part.
Julia Roberts: "No"
So, who else did the director offer the role to prior to Bullock? None other than the four-time Golden Globe Winner and Academy Award winner, Julia Roberts. While it would have been a good move for Roberts considering the film’s eventual success, Roberts chose to turn down the role.
She did not feel that the part was right for her… perhaps she also just had to meet Tuohy in real life and then she too would have wanted to be a part of the film. So, Sandra Bullock took the role and gave an outstanding performance that would re-develop her career for the better, and we will explain why later on in the list.
Most fans of the film and those who were devoted football fans can understand how Quinton Aaron might pass as the football star Michael Oher. They have a similar build and height. However, one minor difference separates the two.
Quinton Aaron is a bit older than Michael Oher. He was born in 1984, while Michael Oher was born in 1986. The age difference is pretty insignificant and Quinton Aaron proved himself to be one fine Michael Oher.
Having Famous Friends
While Michael Oher wasn’t a huge fan of the film, he didn’t have any negative feelings toward the actors and actresses who portrayed his story. Actually, one star of the film still has quite the presence in his life; Sandra Bullock herself.
Sandra Bullock developed a relationship with Michael Oher, as well as with the entire Tuohy family. She continues to follow Michael Oher’s progress as an athlete and roots for him whenever she gets the chance. She can be spotted at many Super Bowl games, alongside the family, hoping to see him win.
Hollywood Actor Once Security Guard
While things weren’t realistically portrayed as much as he would have hoped, Michael Oher was nonetheless extremely moved by Quinton Aaron’s amazing delivery in the film. You might find it hard to believe that this was Aaron’s first lead role and that he had only tried his hand at acting with a few minor roles prior to The Blind Side.
At the time that he was cast for the film, Aaron was working as a security guard, which seems like a fitting role for somebody of his size and stature. The then 23-year-old had little hopes of landing the role when he auditioned. On his way out, he gave his business card to director John lee Hancock and offered to provide his services as a security guard on the set during the shoots.
At the time, Aaron was living in a tough neighborhood in the Bronx with his brother and mother. It took a year until Quinton received notice that he got the part, during which he was on the cusp of being evicted. During that year, Quinton's mother had died and he wasn't able to pay for rent. Quinton was later able to draw inspiration from his own experience to help relate to his onscreen character.
The Concerns Of Oher Himself
To this day, Michael Oher does not like the film. It’s not only because of how the film depicted him as a person and as a football player. But, it’s also because of how people continue to view him today.
Oher feels sorry that most people don’t see him as the person he wants them to see; as a serious athlete who put in a lot of work and effort to get to this place that he previously thought was impossible. To his disappointment, he feels that most people see him now as a player that had a movie made about him and not as the talented athlete he is.
His Time at School
Michael Oher’s acceptance to Briarcrest Christian School was another part of the film that was tweaked in order to arouse a greater emotional reaction from the audience. While this may have drawn movie watchers even closer to the film, it did just the opposite for Oher who grew more frustrated at the overly-embellished film plot.
In the movie, teachers are hesitant to let Oher into Briarcrest, but change their mind when they notice how he opens up to them. Oher’s coach also advocates on behalf of Oher and helps convince authorities in his favor by delivering a convincing and emotional speech. However, in reality, Michael Oher didn’t get into the school this easily thanks to his nearly non-existent academic record as of 2002. While his coach did advocate for his acceptance, the principal at Briarcrest insisted that he participate in a home school program for a few months and complete some pretty challenging assignments before the school accepted him.
How else was the film different than reality?
Michael Oher made it his mission to deliver to the world the real story of his life. So, in 2011, he published his autobiography called I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness, to The Blind Side, and Beyond.
In the book, he gives readers a more detailed story of his childhood and debunks any misconception that the film made about him. He also discussed in greater depth any story he felt that the film left unresolved and provided more details than the film was capable of doing.
The Real Collins Tuohy
One character who got a lot of respect from the audience was Michael’s sister Collins Tuohy. She was played by actress Lily Collins. The film describes her as a high achiever, who is a straight-A student, and a member of both the cheerleading squad and volleyball team.
Well, the movie’s portrayal of Collins is quite accurate, as she is truly gifted in several areas. She was a state champion in pole-vaulting in high school and eventually was accepted to the Ole Miss cheerleading squad. Both her and her brother attended Ole Miss.
While Collins was hesitant about Michael at the beginning, the two ended up forming a strong bond. The real Collins shared in an interview: “My friends were very open to Michael. They were very sweet to him and we all got along really well.” Collins was a huge support to Michael and dedicated herself to helping him. She even dropped several of her AP classes to be able to transfer into some of his classes so that she would understand his assignments and be able to help him. “That was the most studying I’d ever done in my life,” Collins told 20/20. She says that she was never made fun of at school for being seen with Michael.
Michael Meeting Sean
As you have seen, you need to take everything you see in a movie with a grain of salt. In one scene where Sean Tuohy meets Michael Oher, the scene was overly emotional and exaggerated.
In the movie, Sean Tuohy first meets Oher unexpectedly at one of Collins’ volleyball games. At the game, Oher is throwing out the garbage that hungry spectators left behind. However, in reality, Tuohy first visited Oher at his school after hearing about him from his daughter. He stopped by the school and created a lunch account for Oher to make sure he wouldn't be hungry. This also happened before his wife saw him on the side of the road.
The Preparation For The Mighty Role
Not only did Quinton Aaron have to get used to life on set, but he also had to grow accustomed to life on the field. As strong as he was at the time of filming, he still had to do a lot of work to get in tip-top shape. So, he started training with a real, top-notch college football team in order to get into the role.
To prepare for the role, Quinton Aaron trained with the football team at Georgia Tech. To fully immerse himself in the role, it was crucial that he got to know the field as best as possible. And the training seemed to work, because Quinton Aaron did a good job convincing people he was really a football player.
Authorities of Briarcrest Christian School weren’t so pleased about the film using the name of the school. While they changed the name to Wingate Christian School, the authorities worried that the film would shine a negative light on the school because the film shows the teachers as being dismissive of Michael Oher’s academic abilities.
As fans of the movie know, the school was fully portrayed in the movie. The director, John Lee Hancock, even used the school’s color, green throughout the film. The film did not defame the school in any way, and only used the school in order to realistically portray information relevant to the story.
Getting accepted to the role of Michael Oher brought the starry-eyed Quinton Aaron into a life he never expected to become a part of. Not only was he accepting a major role in an Oscar-nominated film, but he was unknowingly accepting a life of glamour that comes with such an honor.
Before he took on the role, Quinton Aaron had never stepped foot on an Airplane in his life. He finally experienced that when he was called to audition a second time for the role. Also a first for him, visiting the dazzling city of Los Angeles.
Having supportive parents can be the difference between success and failure. Quinton Aaron was made privy to this, as he understood that if not for his mother, he may not have tried out for the role as Michael Oher in the first place.
Aaron’s mother saw a notice for the role and automatically thought about her own son. After reading the role’s description and seeing that they were looking for somebody of Aaron’s size, she knew that the role was made for Aaron. So, she sent in her son’s information on his behalf, hopeful to receive good news. Unfortunately she did not survive to see that her son received the part of Michael.
Make It Work
Quinton Aaron had to put in a lot of tough training, practice, and more to convince watchers that he was Michael Oher. So, what exactly did this “more” include?
The young actor had to lose weight for the role. All in all, he lost 100 pounds. Aaron was willing to pay this small price for the big opportunity. He even said he would have “done anything” to prove his ability to play the part. So, he lost major weight in just over three months. That takes a lot of hard work and motivation.
You may have recognized the actor who played Sean Tuohy in the film… especially if you are a fan of country music. That’s because the man who portrayed Tuohy was none other than one of the most recognized country music stars, Tim McGraw. McGraw has released 15 studio albums, 10 of which have made it to number one on the Top Country Albums charts. Who would think that McGraw could also deliver a stellar acting performance?
Well, McGraw wasn’t the only star to stem from the music world. He was joined by Lily Collins, whose last name probably rings a bell to you. Yes, she is Phil Collins’s daughter. And yes, we're talking about the drummer and singer of the rock band Genesis. He has released 8 studio albums which have sold 150 copies worldwide.
When Sandra Bullock appeared in The Blind Side, she already had an impressive resume. She starred in Speed opposite Keanu Reeves. She also starred in another pretty successful commercial film the same year The Blind Side hit theaters: a romantic comedy called The Proposal.
But, The Blind Side did a lot to redefine Bullock’s career. She not only received an overwhelming amount of critical acclaim, but she also won some major awards for her performance. To top off her successes, she celebrated a record being broken. For the first time ever, a female actress was the only name to appear legible above the film’s title.
Legacy Of A Champion
The Blind Side was deemed as an enjoyable movie, despite some inaccuracies. It even received favorable reviews from the most serious critics. The film garnered a reputation at both prestigious events like the Golden Globes and the Oscars and at the box office. As you've seen, it was a major milestone for Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron alike.
The Blind Side had a fairly modest budget of just under $30 million. It ended up racking in much more than that at the box office, $309.2 million, to be exact. Owing to its huge profit, the film has won the title as the highest grossing sports film in history.
One of the most momentous moments of the film is at the Thanksgiving scene. The Tuohy family are crowded around the table in the cozy home, sharing a warm Thanksgiving meal together. Everything seems pretty much perfect, even the golden-colored turkey. But, If you look closer, you might notice something.
Well, at least if you're an art enthusiast you would pick up on this detail. When Leigh Anne placed the turkey on the table, the scene quickly transforms into a copy of the famous painting by Norman Rockwell called “Freedom from Want.” While it’s not clear whether this was intentional, it was a nice addition to the film that captured the unmistakable bond of family over the holidays.
This scene is also meaningful because it shows the Tuohy family seated together around the table, something that they did not just do because it was Thanksgiving. Michael Oher often convinced his new family to sit with him at the dinner table. In real life, it happened most nights because it felt special to him to have that. Sean Tuohy later joked in an interview: “He made us sit around the dinner table. If we were going to spend time with him, we’d come eat at the table. We haven’t eaten at the table since he left."
Devoted to Good
The Ole Miss spirit is strong and present in the film, of course. After all, Collins and Leigh Anne Tuohy, as well as Michael Oher all attended the school. Any family that’s a big fan of football would take pride on such a lineage.
But, this is not actually the first time that Sandra played an Ole Miss alumni. In 1996, she played in the drama A Time to Kill. Her character, Ellen Roark, an eager law student, attended Ole Miss for her undergraduate degree.
While Quinton Aaron gave an excellence performance of “Big Mike,” it’s hard to know what was real and what wasn’t. A lot of the film got its inspiration from the New York Times best-selling book written by Michael Lewis, called The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. Lewis is also the author of Moneyball and Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life.
Michael’s part was actually one of two stories in the book. The written version of The Blind Side included the story of the life and career of someone other than Michael Oher. It also told the story of Lawrence Taylor, who was a player for the New York Giants from 1981 to 1993.
Sports fans who saw the movie noticed some familiar faces, especially in the coaches. The reason for this is that many of the coaches in the film are current or retired football coaches.
For example, Houston Nutt plays the coach for the University of Mississippi in the movie. In reality, Nutt was really the coach for the University of Mississippi from 2008-2011 and prior to that, he was the coach of the University of Arkansas from 1998 to 2007.
Other portrayals include Ed Orgeron, who is now a coach at the Louisiana State University team after being the coach at Ole Miss for 2 years. Another coach in the film was Phillip Fulmer, who was once the football coach for the University of Tennessee for just over 15 years.
As fans of the movie may know, the film takes place in Memphis, Tennessee. This is also where the story of Michael Oher took place. In the film, Leigh Anne says , “I have been in Memphis my whole life.” But those with a good eye may have noticed something in the film that told otherwise.
In one of the scenes, Leigh Anne and Michael walk past a sign that says “Georgia Lottery PLAY HERE” while at the Big and Tall store. Weird… people in Memphis are definitely not playing the Georgia lottery. That’s because the movie was really filmed in Atlanta Georgia.
As mentioned, Sandra Bullock was reluctant to accept the role of Leigh Anne Tuohy due to religious reasons. However, once she met the real Leigh Anne Tuohy, she actually wanted to play the role so badly, that she even agreed to a pay cut.
Like most Hollywood actors, Sandra Bullock reportedly asked for a set fee to star in the film. This film wasn’t able to offer her what she requested. The other option was to accept a percentage of the film’s profits. Bullock agreed to do this, which turned out to be an excellent financial move considering the film’s profits of $309.2 million in theaters.
There are several iconic cameos made in The Blind Side. One very special cameo was made by Michael Oher’s real-life high school football coach from Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, Hugh Freeze. Where can you see him in the film?
Hugh Freeze’s time on the big screen occurs when he plays a University of Arkansas assistant, standing behind the real-life Arkansas Razorbacks coach, Houston Nutt. At the time, Freeze no longer worked as the Briarcrest coach but had moved on to Tennessee’s Lambuth University, where he was the head coach of the football team until switching to Arkansas State in 2010.
"Wonderbar" Blind Side
Before a film’s official release, it is often referred to as its working title. Sometimes, the working title is also used when copies of the movie are sent to theaters. This happens in order to hide the identities of highly-anticipated movies.
In the case of The Blind Side, before it was released, it was given the very vague title of Wonderbar. Wunderbar is a German word for “wonderful.” Were they expecting the 33mm film to be a huge success or were they just sending it off in good, positive spirits?
People from Michael Oher’s real life made several appearances in the film. Even real members of the Tuohy family made minor, but nevertheless, interesting cameos.
In the film, during the scene of the first game, the real S.J. Tuohy can be seen next to Tim McGraw, who played S.J’s father, Sean Tuohy. Since the Tuohys first welcomed Oher into their family, The now-25-year-old has emerged as a successful athlete, journalist, and scholar. Following high school, S.J. got his bachelor's degree in Communications from Loyola University in Baltimore where he also played basketball. After graduating, he decided to pursue a master's degree at Southern Methodist University while also playing football. In 2017, he coached at SMU. Currently, he is a special assistant to the head coach of football operations for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
In the film, Michael Oher needs to improve his grades and average in order to be accepted to the fictional Wingate Christian School. During one scene, Michael is seen taking a history exam. But, something is off.
The camera highlights a question about the Battle of Waterloo and where it happened. Michael wrote that the battle took place in Germany and his teacher marked his answer as correct. However, the battle really took place in what was then The Netherlands and now, Belgium.
Troubles With The Timeline
When a movie is filmed shortly after something takes place, it could appear as though everything has stayed the same. Because of that, some details get overlooked. One such example takes place in the scene at the recruiting office.
During this scene, Tom Lemming receives a DVD of Michael Oher, which sits on a magazine with football player Bryce Brown on the cover, showing him playing in the Army All-American game of 2009. However, The Blind Side takes place in 2003 and 2004 and during those years, Bryce Brown was only 12- and 13-years-old
There are a few more disparities in the film, besides getting the years mixed up. As mentioned, the movie takes place in 2003 and 2004 so naturally, some things were not available then. For example, in the film, Sean Tuohy is seen using the Safari browser on a Windows operating system. However, this only became available in 2007.
Another example comes with the car that Leigh Anne Tuohy drives, a BMW 750LI. This car only came out in 2006. What’s even funnier is that the car model underwent a major transition in 2006 and looked quite different from its older version which was available in 2003 and 2004.
Those who are aware of privacy laws probably noticed something peculiar in The Blind Side. Leigh Anne, who had not legally adopted Michael Oher yet, could access his files at his school in order to keep track of his progress.
In real life, only legal guardians or attorneys may access a student’s confidential files. Despite this law, we witness the social worker at Wingate Christian School giving Leigh Anne all of Michael’s information.
The Blind Side is both a sports film and a Southern film. Many of the movie’s stars are southerners themselves. Sandra Bullock, who portrayed Leigh Anne Tuohy, was born in Virginia and went to high school there (her family spent 12 years in Germany in between). She attended at East Carolina University in North Carolina.
Meanwhile, Tim McGraw, who played Sandra Bullock’s on-screen husband was born and raised in Louisiana. He is also recognized as one of the biggest musicians in Country music. He has produced 15 albums and 10 of those have reached the No. 1 spot on the Country music charts.