On Banning Gone With the Wind

As most of us know by now, HBO MAX pulled Gone With the Wind from streaming video. I don’t blame them. This is a movie that makes the Confederate South seem like a place where the slaves loved being slaves, and where the way of life was all fine and dandy until those pesky Northerners butted in.

Here are the opening credits, according to IMDB:

“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South… Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow… Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and Slave… Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind…”

Make no mistake: This movie glorifies a system that should be shown as the ugly, racist, deadly and ignorant thing that it was. Slavery and everything that came with it is not pretty or gallant. It isn’t a dream remembered. It’s a nightmare for which this country should be truly ashamed.

But this movie is also a work of art. The cinematography is stunning, and the costumes are even more so. In the 1940 Academy Awards, it won an Oscar for best actress, best actress in a supporting role, best director, best writing, best cinematography, best art direction, best film editing, and best picture. Whether we like it or not in modern times, it’s a classic.

I do not believe in censoring works of art. What I believe in is providing context for those works that are offensive. This movie should be forever linked with a disclaimer/explanation/warning label. It should discuss how these views and opinions seemed acceptable in 1940, but we have come to realize how unacceptable they really are in modern times. It should come with links to other movies, books and articles that more accurately portray American slavery. It should warn that this film’s racism and misogyny will be offensive to many. It should also warn us not to fall victim to the false nostalgia that is Gone With the Wind.

I think everyone should see this movie and learn from it. It is a gorgeous work of art. I hope will never be created again, but it’s there, a huge boulder in the center of our cinematic culture, and we should acknowledge that. We also should celebrate that so many of us now find this movie inappropriate at best. You might say that we should all give a damn.

(Oh, and it’s rumored that Clarke Gable had really bad breath, so think of that during all the kissing scenes. Poor Vivien!)

Gone-With-The-Wind-Poster-gone-with-the-wind-33266928-1667-2500
“Oh, Rhett, please take a breath mint!”

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5 thoughts on “On Banning Gone With the Wind

  1. David Robinson

    It’s not bad enough that we’re trying to erase actual history to make people feel better, now we’re attacking fiction, too?

    1. Brett Muttler

      There is no suggestion that the story or movie be changed. What is appropriate is an acknowledgment that the film was produced and created by a society that failed (or refused) to admit or show the reality of slavery. Physical abuse aka torture, rape, the selling of children and breaking up of families was the reality for black skinned people. Pretending that slaves were happy and accepting of their role as property denies the truth that such behavior was merely survival skills.

      In a similar manner, removing Confederate statues from parks and neighborhoods provides the opportunity to put them in a proper context, whether it’s a memorial park or a museum setting that can include conversation about the whitewashed stories that were portrayed by these statues. We are not trying to erase history by removing statues, we are trying to acknowledge the context in which such things were created.

      ‘Gone with the Wind’ is back on HBO Max, with an acknowledgement of ‘racist depictions’. The film starts with a new prologue. During the four-and-a-half minute introduction, Jacqueline Stewart, host of TCM’s “Silent Sunday Nights” and a professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, gives viewers a brief context of the film and the criticisms that led to its initial removal from the platform.

      The fact is that movie was created closer to the time when slavery existed (and while former slaves still lived) than we are from the time that GWTW was filmed. Times change as does our understanding. We know more truths than were admitted then and it is appropriate to acknowledge that truth.

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