'The Blind Side' movie controversy explained: Who profited from Michael Oher's life story?

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"The Blind Side" has been waylaid with controversy more than a decade after the 2009 blockbuster movie's release.

On Aug. 14, Michael Oher, the onetime NFL player whose story was dramatized in "The Blind Side," asked a Tennessee court to end his legal relationship with the Tuohy family, who took him into their home as he navigated the foster care system and went on to become a football star and pro player. Oher, 37, claimed he recently learned he had never been adopted by the Tuohys as portrayed in the film.

He also said he had been tricked into signing an agreement to make the couple his conservators, giving them authority to make his business decisions and allowing the family to profit from his life story with "The Blind Side," which earned $309 million at the box office.

Here are some of the burning questions around "The Blind Side," which won Sandra Bullock a best actress Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy and co-starred Tim McGraw as her husband, Sean, and Quinton Aaron as Oher.

'The Blind Side' controversy: Michael Oher is suing the Tuohy family. Many know the pain of family wounds.

Football prodigy Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) is adopted by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sanda Bullock) in "The Blind Side."
Football prodigy Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) is adopted by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sanda Bullock) in "The Blind Side."

Is 'The Blind Side' a true story?

The film is a dramatized Hollywood account of "Moneyball" author Michael Lewis' 2006 book "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game," written while Oher was playing college football at the University of Mississippi. The book also used Oher’s true personal story to highlight the left tackle position, which protects the “blind side” of predominantly right-handed quarterbacks from pass rushers. Hence the title.

Even understanding the movie's liberties in storytelling, Oher called out "The Blind Side" before the lawsuit. In his 2011 memoir written with author Don Yaeger, "I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to 'The Blind Side,' and Beyond," Oher wrote that he had problems with how the movie "portrayed me."

"I felt like (the film) portrayed me as dumb instead of as a kid who had never had consistent academic instruction and ended up thriving once he got it," Oher wrote.

Oher also took issue with the focus on the Tuohy family.

" ' The Blind Side’ is about how one family helped me reach my fullest potential, but what about the people and experiences that all added up to putting me in their path? As anyone in my family will tell you, they were just part of a complicated series of events and personalities that helped me achieve success,” he wrote. “They were a huge part of it, but it was a journey I’d started a long time before.”

Oher also mentions the conservatorship in the memoir, describing when he became "a legal member of the Touhy family."

"Sean and Leigh Anne would be named as my 'legal conservators.' They explained to me that it means pretty much the same thing as 'adoptive parents' but that the laws were just written in a way that took my age into account. Honestly, I didn't care what it was called," Oher wrote. "We were a family."

Who has made money off 'The Blind Side' movie?

According to Oher's petition, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy negotiated a movie deal that gave them and their two biological children $225,000 each and 2.5% of the film’s net proceeds.

In 2007, Oher signed a contract with 20th Century Fox, which unbeknownst to Oher gave away his story rights "without any payment whatsoever," the petition alleges.

“Michael received nothing,” Oher’s petition says, for a “story that would not have existed without him.”

Sean Touhy disputed Oher's account, telling the Daily Memphian newspaper, “We didn’t make any money off the movie.” Touhy added that Lewis, his friend since childhood, "gave us half of his share" of the money the author received for the film.

"Everybody in the family got an equal share, including Michael. It was about $14,000 each," Touhy said.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Lewis said no one involved in the story saw millions, despite the movie's success.

“Everybody should be mad at the Hollywood studio system,” Lewis said. “Michael Oher should join the writers strike. It’s outrageous how Hollywood accounting works, but the money is not in the Tuohys’ pockets.”

Lewis said that ultimately, he and the Tuohy family received about $350,000 each in movie profits.

'Blind Side' producers speak out on film's authenticity

Film producers Broderick Johnson and Andrew A. Kosove, whose company Alcon Entertainment co-produced "The Blind Side," defended the film's depiction of Oher and the Tuohy family in a statement to USA TODAY on Aug. 24.

"In the story of 'The Blind Side,' we saw the better angels of human nature," Johnson and Kosove said. "We saw it in the Tuohys' wonderful acts of kindness toward Michael Oher." They added the film is "verifiably authentic and will never be a lie or fake, regardless of the familial ups and downs that have occurred subsequent to the film."

Johnson and Kosove also addressed Oher's allegation that he didn't receive compensation for the use of his life story in the film, acknowledging that Alcon Entertainment acquired film rights to Lewis' book and associated rights contracts from 20th Century Fox, which negotiated the contracts.

"In 2006, the nature of life rights deals for books, documentaries and film, as well as the limitations of what college athletes were able to do and maintain eligibility, were very different than they are today," Johnson and Kosove said. "The deal that was made by Fox for the Tuohys’ and Michael Oher’s life rights was consistent with the marketplace at that time for the rights of relatively unknown individuals. Therefore, it did not include significant payouts in the event of the film’s success."

The producers added that Alcon Entertainment paid approximately $767,000 to the talent agency that represents the Tuohy family and Oher. "The notion that the Tuohys were paid millions of dollars by Alcon to the detriment of Michael Oher is false," they said.

Could Sandra Bullock lose her Oscar over the 'Blind Side' controversy?

As the news of the lawsuit unfolded, calls emerged on social media for Bullock to return her 2010 best actress Oscar, which Aaron addressed during an interview with TMZ.

"To make a statement like that doesn't make any sense," Aaron said. "Sandra Bullock didn't have anything to do with the real story."

"We're all just finding out about this situation, which is heartbreaking," Aaron tells USA TODAY. "I just feel like the people saying that are Internet trolls trying to add fuel to the fire and take away her Oscar."

There is little chance of Bullock returning her Oscar, or of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seeking to take the the award back.

"Nothing's going to happen," says Joyce Eng, senior editor of awards website Gold Derby. "This is just typical Twitter outrage − and misguided outrage at that. (Bullock) is not involved in this."

Where can you watch 'The Blind Side'?

"The Blind Side," which also was nominated for best picture, is available for rental or purchase on such platforms as Amazon, Apple TV and Vudu.

Should you watch 'The Blind Side'?

The feel-good film, which has 66% positive reviews on aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, has been the subject of controversy since its release. Critics decried the film for perpetuating the "white savior" trope.

"The film is very problematic the way it celebrates this white family, and specifically this white woman, with such negative stereotypes of Black people," says Erica Chito Childs, a professor of sociology at Hunter College and The CUNY Graduate Center and a researcher of issues of race, gender and sexuality.

If people watch the drama again, Chito Childs believes, it should be for educational reasons.

"Go back now and watch that film and see it through a new lens and think more critically about these issues," Chito Childs says.

Aaron says "The Blind Side" should be watched again for its overarching message of hope, no matter who is right in the legal conflict.

"Over the years, I've heard from so many people who say they were affected in a positive way by 'The Blind Side,' " Aaron says. "There is so much positivity that came from that film. It has a legacy that will live on for generations to come."

Contributing: Edward Segarra, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'The Blind Side' controversy: Who made money from Michael Oher movie?