NFL star Michael Oher, inspiration for The Blind Side, sues Tuohy family for deceptive adoption   

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published Aug 15, 2023 at 04:48 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

In a startling revelation, retired American football star Michael Oher, whose life story inspired the Academy Award-winning film The Blind Side which starred Sandra Bullock, Lily Collins, and Kathy Bates, has come forward with allegations that the heartwarming story told about his life in the movie is far from the truth.

In the 2009 movie based on the 2006 book of the same name, Oher, a foster child from Tennessee, is portrayed as being adopted by a wealthy white couple, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, and manages to reach his true potential as a standout college athlete. However, Oher, now 37, claims that the family made him believe he was getting adopted but instead placed him under a conservatorship when he was 18, according to legal documents filed on Monday 14 August 2023.

The court filing in Shelby County Court, Tennessee, asserts that Oher’s alleged adoption was a falsehood that allowed the Tuohys to benefit financially while he was left disadvantaged, contrary to the supportive image of the family that is painted in the film.

As a result, the Tuohy family’s deal with 20th Century Studios is now also under scrutiny. Oher asserts that the arrangement denied him any compensation for the rights to his life story, likeness, and name. In stark contrast, the Tuohy family reportedly secured a lucrative $225,000 contract fee, along with 2.5 per cent of the movie’s net proceeds.

It should be noted that the popular film has made more than $300 million at the box office, with an additional $200,000 donation directed towards Leigh Anne Tuohy’s charity foundation. Meanwhile, Oher himself was never offered any kind of compensation for his life story’s rights, despite the fact that a signature resembling his is on the paper, as the court filing implies.

It wasn’t until February 2023 that Oher discovered the truth about the documents the Tuohys had him sign by making him believe that they were related to the “adoption process” when in reality, they were conservatorship documents that would undermine his legal rights.

The former NFL star’s allegations suggest that shortly after turning 18, Oher was manipulated into making the Tuohys his conservators, granting them full control over his personal and financial affairs, the money of which went to them and their biological children. He contends that while they reaped profits from the film and book adaptation, he was left without any substantial benefit.

The revelations come as a shock to those who embraced the heartwarming tale, but they also have raised questions about the ethics of profiting from someone else’s story, especially when the individual at the centre of the narrative is left without due compensation and consent.

Curiously, after the revelations came to light, a Reddit thread surfaced, claiming that a rather controversial scene had been excised from The Blind Side. In the thread, a user reported that in the scene, Sandra Bullock’s character allegedly tells Oher: “Listen, boy, you’re only as good to me as the potential money you’ll bring in from going pro!” We can’t confirm whether or not this scene ever existed, but even the thought of its omission adds an intriguing layer to Oher’s recent claims.

Sean Tuohy has expressed his disbelief and dismay over the claims, denying making money from the movie and emphasising that the primary earnings came from the book penned by author Michael Lewis.

The pattern of real-life stories transformed into lucrative films, while leaving the subjects largely unchanged, extends beyond Oher’s case. Movies such as Slumdog Millionaire and City of God, both of which expose vulnerable children in challenging circumstances and extreme poverty, serve as stark reminders of the exploitation that was done to those young individuals. Despite generating millions in revenue post-release, the lives of these children remained untouched, shedding light on the lack of transformative impact often seen in such situations.

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