Gone With the Wind Should Not Be Erased, Argue Film Historians. But It Should Not Be Watched in a Vacuum
Nationwide protests following the assassination of George Floyd by the police have led to media accounts for how race and police are portrayed in popular culture. As a result, some films and TV shows that have controversially glorified the police, such as cops and live PD, or immortalized racist stereotypes such as the British sketch show Little Britain, have been deleted or removed from their platforms.
This week, HBO Max removed the 1939 film Gone With the Wind, which has long been criticized for glorifying slavery in the American South, from its catalog and promised to bring it back into service in the future along with a "discussion of its history" to provide context and a denunciation of his racist representations. The decision followed the release of a Los Angeles Times by 12 years a slave, writer John Ridley, who was asked to take the film out of service or reintroduce it later, along with more realistic cinematic representations or paired conversations in a context.
"[Gone With The Wind] is a film that, if not ignoring the horrors of slavery, only stops to sustain some of the most painful stereotypes of people with color," wrote Ridley. “It is a film that, as part of the story of The Lost cause, romanticizes the Confederation in a way that continues to legitimize the idea that the secession movement was something more or better or nobler than what it was. a bloody uprising to uphold the 'right' to own, sell and buy people. "
Gone with the wind could be back at HBO Max in a week, the Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing an anonymous source. According to the post, the restored film will include an introduction by an African American scholar who will break down the racist portrayals of the film. A spokesman for HBO Max did not immediately return TIME's request for comment when the film would return to the platform.
The removal of the film from the new streaming platform reflects Disney +’s decision not to make the 1946 film Song of the South completely unavailable and to warn about films such as Dumbo. And it has revived a wider debate on censorship. But film historians and critics who spoke to TIME say the problem is more complicated than just censoring content. For one thing, Gone With the Wind can still be rented and purchased on other platforms and has not disappeared or been permanently switched off. Scientists shouldn't be either. "Do I think it should be gone forever? No, I teach Gone With The Wind, ”says Kimberly Nichele Brown, associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. “But I teach about race and racism with a whole schedule. I historicize these films. “The question that Brown and others ask is how viewers will deal with a movie like Gone with the Wind in the future.
"You can't ignore the historical context," says film critic and pop culture author ReBecca Theodore-Vachon. “Blown away by the wind, a rich, privileged white woman centered and used slavery as the background. Let's talk about real stories of slavery survivors talking about the abuses they suffered among these rich white women. "
Theodore-Vachon says viewers should also think about how racist tropes can still be seen on the screen in Gone With the Wind. For example, Hattie McDaniel's Oscar-winning role as Mammy cemented the strength of a black woman who only exists to advance the story of a white character that is currently barely extinct. In recent years, this trope, to name just one example, has played out in black actresses who play therapists for white TV characters.
"This character has no life outside of her own," says Theodore-Vachon. "Maybe you don't know her last name. The producers tick a diversity box in their heads - they use black people as a spice. "
These problems will persist in part due to a lack of diversity and inclusion in all facets of filmmaking and television, says Theodore-Vachon. A 2017 study that examined the composition of the staff of 234 television shows with screenplays found that only 4.8% of all television authors were black. "If your writing room is really white and the production is really white, these black characters are basically at risk," she says. "They are in danger of being marginalized or classified as tokens because no one in the room is standing up for them."
Ridley's observations about Gone with the Wind in the Los Angeles Times are not new, says Anna Everett, professor of film and media studies at UC Santa Barbara, who notes that several people spoke out against the film when it premiered in 1939. Everett points out the poet Melvin B. Tolson, who was one of the black critics to highlight the film's racism at the time of its release. Tolson wrote in the Washington Tribune that it was "more dangerous than the birth of a nation" (the D.W. Griffith film from 1915, which was so racist in its portrayal of the blacks that the Ku Klux Klan experienced a violent revival).
"The birth of a nation was such an open lie that an idiot could see through it," Tolson wrote at the time. "Gone with the wind is such a subtle lie that millions of whites and blacks swallow it as truth." This effect is partly due to the way the film treats the civil war, says Everett.
"The civil war is like a spontaneous cremation, with no discussion of the economic, social, or political causes that led to the war," she says. "How can a civilization be blown away by the wind if there isn't something that makes it work? The picture does not show the reality and aims to create sympathy for the white south. This is the historical context that HBO needs. "
The step of being blown away by the wind is taking place in the wake of a wider awakening of systemic racism, which has prompted many to revisit films about racism - although many would argue that not all of them are the right choice. Last week, the 2011 film The Help, widely criticized for promoting a white savior narrative by focusing on a white female character served by black domestic workers, became the most-watched film on Netflix. For Brown, this means that non-black viewers intentionally or not try to learn about racism from films that offer entertainment and catharsis rather than education. And after HBO Max's Gone Wind the Wind disappeared, Variety reported that the film was number one on the bestseller TV and film sales list, suggesting that the removal of the film led to rediscovery and curiosity secondly, that people want to handle the film with comments. But if you see gone with the wind without properly understanding the context, the white audience can alleviate their own guilt, according to Brown.
"People who are afraid of the protests are looking for nostalgic memories of a racist context that they understand," she says. "Something that is nice and compact and combines the racial relationships between blacks and whites in this beautiful, neat arc."
Ideally, a restored version of Gone With the Wind will include a conversation that discusses why so many aspects of the film are racist and historically inaccurate from the depiction of enslaved people who seem happy to be forced to work "Until the implication that white women live on plantations were not involved in the practice of slavery," says Theodore-Vachon.
"Scarlett [O'Hara, Vivien Leigh's character in the film] didn't abuse her slaves, but she didn't free them," she says. "She never looked at Mammy and thought:" You need your freedom. "There are many psychological and physical trauma, but Gone With the Wind has not addressed any of it."
In addition, viewers should think more about what type of television and film they want to see, says Theodore-Vachon. It is not enough just to learn about the truth of slavery by viewing and reading discussion material about Gone with the Wind.
"If you really want to grapple with America's past and present, I really ask people to look for work that actually comes from black filmmakers," she says. "It is important to see that black people lead their normal lives." Her comments point to a broader conversation about how Hollywood tends to spend its money on films about suffering, from slavery to the civil rights movement, in relation to black narratives, and the audience supports these decisions with their purchasing power. "It's really about regaining autonomy and humanity, and that doesn't give us the wind."
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