Amidst all the hubbub about Dr. Ben Carson’s life story, I decided to watch the 2009 movie in which Cuba Gooding, Jr. played Dr. Carson. The movie is based on Ben Carson’s autobiography, and it is entitled, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.
I was surprised that I was able to get the movie as quickly as I
did. In light of the current controversy, I was expecting to see “long
wait” or “very long wait” beside the title on my Netflix queue, but that
was not the case. I simply requested the movie, put it to the top of
my queue, and got it a few days later.
There were aspects of the movie that I liked. A mom tries to bring
the best out of her son, even though she is experiencing problems
herself (i.e., depression, illiteracy, the struggle to earn and save
money). An unpopular kid, whom many think is stupid, improves his
grades through hard work and a growing love for learning. A person
turns to God for help in taming his temper, and when confronted with
delicate challenges. And one desires to learn through reading books
rather than sitting through lectures. (I do both, but I can understand
why one would prefer to read books.)
I also came to appreciate Ben Carson’s mind and his contributions to
neurosurgery, as he came up with a way to separate siamese twins who
were joined at the back of their head (a jarring sight), and as he
helped cure a little girl of seizures by removing half of her brain. In
the movie, he seemed to know what he was doing. He knew stuff, and he
knew how to apply the stuff that he knew, and to navigate his way
through delicate, life-threatening situations. Of course, this is just a
movie, but I think that part of the movie is believable, for Ben Carson
is a reputable neurosurgeon (even though he has had some malpractice suits).
My impression, though, is that he does not display that same level of
knowledge and ability to come up with solutions as a Presidential
My Mom was watching the movie with me, and she thought that the movie
was a bit self-aggrandizing on Ben Carson’s part. I can understand her
perspective. She was comparing the movie to The Grinder, a TV series that we watched right before watching the movie. In The Grinder,
Rob Lowe plays an actor who had played a lawyer on TV and is now
working in his family’s law firm. He is well-intentioned, but he is
rather melodramatic and narcissistic. Gifted Hands had its
share of melodrama. There is also a scene in which a fellow doctor
tells Carson that Carson has to come up with a solution to the siamese
twins (e.g., to separate them without killing one or both), since Carson
is the greatest mind in pediatric neurosurgery, and, if he can’t come
up with a solution, nobody can! As my Mom said, had this movie been
based on a biography of Carson, that would be one thing, but it was based on Carson’s own autobiography!
I can understand and appreciate that Dr. Carson wants for his life
story to inspire people, but the movie could have toned things down a
bit. Plus, while Dr. Carson is obviously smart, should we really
believe that he is the only person in the entire world who could come up
with a solution to the siamese twins? There are plenty of smart people
in the world!
After watching the movie, I was thinking about the topic of pulling
oneself up by one’s own bootstraps. Some conservatives may point to Dr.
Carson and say to African-Americans: “You see! You’re holding
yourselves back! If you work hard, you can become anything you want!”
Progressives, by contrast, would tend to point to societal problems and
injustice holding African-Americans back. I definitely believe that
people should try to be responsible: Ben Carson’s mom did well to turn
off the TV and to have her sons read two books a week and write two book
reports. But, judging from what the movie itself depicted, Ben Carson
did have some societal advantages. As a child, he went to a good public
school, which cannot be said of every African-American child. He had
access to a decent public library, which gave him an opportunity to
expand his mind. The movie did not mention affirmative action, but Dr.
Carson did succeed in a time when affirmative action was significant.
That is not to imply that he was unqualified, for he did graduate third
in his class (according to the movie). Still, there were a lot of
people who graduated third in their class, and they did not get into
Yale. My point is that Ben Carson succeeded through hard work, but also
through societal advantages. It was not either/or.