The Long Battle Over ‘Gone With the Wind’Historians in the News
tags: film, slavery, racism
When HBO Max announced Tuesday that it was temporarily removing “Gone With the Wind” from its streaming service, it seemed as if another Confederate monument was coming down.
“Gone With the Wind” may register with younger people today only as their grandmother’s favorite movie (or maybe, the source of a lacerating joke that opens Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman”). And for every prominent conservative accusing HBO Max of censorship, there were plenty on social media calling the movie, well, boring.
But the 1939 classic — still the highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation — has enduringly shaped popular understanding of the Civil War and Reconstruction perhaps more than any other cultural artifact.
“You want to have a Southern antebellum wedding — where does that come from?” said Kellie Carter Jackson, a historian at Wellesley College who teaches a course on slavery and film. “People will say they haven’t seen the movie. But they have seen it — just not in its original form.”
HBO Max’s move came a day after The Los Angeles Times published an opinion piece by John Ridley, the screenwriter of “Twelve Years a Slave,” criticizing “Gone With the Wind” for its racist stereotypes and whitewashing of the horrors of slavery, and calling for it to be presented only with added historical context. (A few days later, the African-American film scholar Jacqueline Stewart announced in an opinion piece for CNN.com that she will be providing the introduction when the movie returns to the streaming service.)
But it also represents a belated reckoning with African-American criticism that started immediately after the 1936 publication of Margaret Mitchell’s novel — even if it was barely noted in the mainstream white press.
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