Ideology can be defined as a system of beliefs, values, and opinions. More in depth, our textbook, Film: A Critical Introduction, states, “Ideologies shape the relationship between an individual and culture, influencing ideas about family structure, gender and sexuality, faith, the function of work, and the role of government, among other things” (pg. 310). Amongst these concepts, race and social class have become a pivotal factor in many of the movies released today. One of the movies we have previously examined, Far From Heaven, displays a vast realm of beliefs and values depicted through the characters. One of the overarching principles carried out throughout the course of the film is the intertwining ideologies barraging the racial differences of a black and white women, as well as the barrier between their social classes. The Blind Side, directed by John Lee Hancock, is film we have not considered throughout this course, yet tackles some of the same ideologies behind race and social class as well. Although each movie relates to the same ideologies, they are portrayed in a different light throughout the plot of each individual film. In this paper, the comparison as well as differentiation between each movie will be discussed through the ideologies of race and social class.
Far From Heaven, directed by Todd Haynes, is centered around a 1950’s housewife, Cathy Whitaker, as she seemingly watches her perfect life begin to fall apart. Cathy is married to Frank Whitaker, a successful executive at Magnatech, and is depicted amongst her peers as the perfect trophy wife and asset to his company. The family maintains status through their wealth as well as the social dominance that tags along with it. When Cathy walks in on her husband having intimate relationships with another man, her world turns awry. She is filled with an abundance of emotions, including shame, and tries to cover up the incident for fear of judgement amongst her equally elite peers. With this dilemma, another complication arises. Filled with confusion and grief, Cathy finds consolation in her African American gardner, Raymond Deagan, which is considered to be social taboo in their time. Her unacceptable friendship with Raymond soon leads to a shared romantic desire for each other. Their secret relationship causes them to be socially scrutinized due to an obvious race and social barrier between the two, depicting the ideologies behind race and class.
Similar to the ideologies rooted in Far From Heaven, John Lee Hancock’s, The Blind Side, focuses on the social views of class and race as well. Based on the true story of a Baltimore Ravens offensive left tackle, Michael Oher’s remarkable story tells of a young African American boy taken in by a wealthy white family. Michael Oher is from a broken family living in the inner city housing projects and is later taken into foster care. By a stroke of luck, he is asked to play high school football, yet still insists on being homeless. Walking in the bitter cold to the school gym in which he sleeps, Michael is approached by a wealthy white couple, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, whom he eventually ends up living with. In the film, the ideology behind their social stature is sometimes looked at as “better” than other classes, such as the poor inner city people that Michael once lived with. Once in the hands of the Tuohy’s, Michael is pushed to play football and ends up playing on a University level. Though Michael’s story has a positive and successful outlook, he is constantly seen having to be guided by his new “mother” throughout school and football practices. The ideology of white supremacy in relation to race is blatantly evident throughout the film.
In reference to a previous statement, ideologies are said to “shape the relationship between an individual and culture.” Both movies are centered around a predominantly high class societal setting with their own prospective relationships played out in each. Yet, these relationships as well as the outcomes that come with them are different. When incidents in Cathy Whitaker’s life force her to go against social norms, her world is, in a sense, reshaped and she is faced to deal with the consequences. This ideology of the “perfect” upper class family entails a beautiful home, modest children, and a pure and excellent marriage. Frank and Cathy feel the need to cover up Frank’s homosexual desires for fear that his business will fail if the public found out. This shows how society frowns upon anything outside of the social norm; in this case, anything outside the standards of their social class. At the end of the film, Cathy grows to accept Frank’s desires and they end up in a divorce. Frank inevitably defies social conformity and winds up with another man.
Far From Heaven challenges the standards of class by rebelling against the terms that the social class abides by; whereas, The Blind Side takes on the stereotypical social class role. Louis Althusser, French philosopher, describes ideology in terms that “individuals are always already subjects”(pg. 106). In relation to the film, this means that we have an engraved view of certain things which tells us how the subject should be looked at based off previous knowledge. In The Blind Side, Michael Oher lives in the inner city projects. Our ideology tells us that based off this fact, he “must” be African American, poor, and from a broken family. In the movie, Michael is shown as uneducated and inferior towards higher classes. Ideology also tells us that because Leigh Anne Tuohy is a wealthy white woman, she “must” be humble and intellectual. In the film, she is depicted as a savior who rescues a destitute African American boy. The storyline of the movie follows the stereotypical roles that society places on different social classes. Leigh Anne is shown throughout the movie constantly guiding Michael in school work and helping him with football. By following these preconceived ideals, The Blind Side conforms to the ideology that society places on social class.
In terms of race, both films play the role of white supremacy; yet, both films portray the subject differently. In Far From Heaven, the relationship between Cathy and Raymond proves to be a critical problem amongst their peers. A review in the Cinèaste clearly points out the racial barrier stating, “Raymond’s friends make it abundantly clear that he has stepped too far over the line. White-skin privilege means this: if Cathy’s friends ostracize her, life tragically can go on, but Raymond and his daughter face economic ruin and personal danger not only from racist whites but from their own black community” (Sklar pg. 39). When Raymond is affiliated with a white woman, his own race even attacks him. This shows the extent of this barrier between white and blacks in the 1950’s and proving them as “different”. Cathy is also seen bundled up in clothing while talking to Raymond as some sort of disguise to mask the implausible relationship between the two. White supremacy is clearly evident in a scene in which Cathy is talking to a friend, Eleanor. When Cathy tells of Frank’s homosexual affair, Eleanor is extremely comforting and non judgemental; yet, when Cathy then speaks of Raymond, Eleanor resents her and claims it is not right.
In The Blind Side, white supremacy can be shown through scenes such as Leigh Anne’s lunch date with her friends. In an article from The Village Voice, it states, “Blind Side the movie peddles the most insidious kind of racism, one in which whiteys are virtuous saviors, coming to the rescue of African-Americans who become superfluous in narratives that are supposed to be about them” (Anderson 2009). When speaking of adopting Michael, one of her friends asks, “Is this some sort of white guilt thing?” Another friend then states, “Aren’t you worried? He’s a large black boy sleeping under the same roof”, hinting that he may rape Leigh Anne’s daughter, Collins. Though this role of white supremacy is carried throughout the film, Michael Oher is not treated with disrespect, but more with acceptance, unlike Raymond. Michael is welcomed by his new siblings as well as all the people he meets and is praised for his football talents. He earns fame and spotlight when committing to University of Maryland, which would be highly unlikely back in the 1950’s. This shows the evolving ideology of race considering the backgrounds of each film. Far From Heaven is based in the 1950’s where it was highly uncommon for blacks and whites to interact, whereas The Blind Side takes place in the 1990’s, where it was undeniably more acceptable for racial integration.
The purpose of this paper was to discuss the differences and similarities between the ideologies of class and race in Far From Heaven and The Blind Side. Each film shows the social views of the interaction between different social classes as well as black and whites. Far From Heaven shows upper class having to maintain a certain social status, whereas The Blind Side takes to the stereotypical roles that society places on different classes. Regarding race, Far From Heaven depicts African Americans as unable to interact with whites, whereas The Blind Side is more accepting and integrated. Both movies display a certain set of beliefs, values, and opinions, displaying an overarching ideology in each.
1.) Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatus (Notes Towards an Investigation.” (n.d.): 106. Web. 14 Dec. 2013.
2.) Anderson, Melissa. “Saintly White People Do the Saving in The Blind Side.” The Village Voice. N.p., 17 Nov. 2009. Web. 11 Dec. 2013
3.) “Far From Heaven.” Cinéaste 2.2 (n.d.): 39. JSTOR. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.
4.) Wallis, Tom. Film A Critical Introduction. By Maria Pramaggiore. N.p.: Laurence King, n.d. 310. Print.