Admired by generations of film lovers for its sweeping epic of a story set in the American South during the Civil War, Gone with the Wind frequently features on lists of greatest movies and remains cinema’s biggest box office success, once inflation is taken into account.
Yet one prominent critic has called for the movie to be consigned to history, condemning it as an “undeniably racist artefact” that should only be on display in a museum.
Lou Lumenick, a writer for the New York Post, labelled the 1939 film “insidiously” racist for its portrayal of African-Americans, arguing that it “unabashedly romanticises” slavery. His column follows the nationwide debate in the US over the Confederate flag, which still flies prominently in some parts of the country but is increasingly viewed as an unacceptable symbol of slavery and racism.
Calls for the flag to be hauled down for ever have gained momentum in the wake of the racially motivated killing of nine African-Americans in a South Carolina church, after photographs emerged of the gunman posing with the flag.
“If the Confederate flag is finally going to be consigned to museums as an ugly symbol of racism, what about the beloved film offering the most iconic glimpse of that flag in American culture?” Mr Lumenick wrote of Gone with the Wind. He asked what it said about the US if the country continued to embrace a movie that “stands for many of the same things as the Confederate flag that flutters so dramatically over the dead and wounded soldiers at the Atlanta train station” in one scene in the film.
The Museum of Modern Art is to screen the film next month as part of its 100th anniversary of Technicolor, the colour film process widely used in Hollywood until the 1950s. Referring to the museum, the critic wrote: “Maybe that’s where this much-loved but undeniably racist artefact really belongs.”
His column prompted a furious response from readers critical of its “liberal” sentiments; many said that committing the film to a museum was like the Nazis burning books. One, James Davidson, wrote: “We are moving towards censorship and all because of the actions of one crazy kid.”
It emerged this month that Warner Bros, which holds the rights to Gone with the Wind, had discontinued sales of models of “the General Lee”, the orange Dodge Charger with a Confederate flag on the roof that features in the television show The Dukes of Hazzard.
Greatest film quotes of all-time
Greatest film quotes of all-time
1/10 Blade Runner
'All these moments will be lost in time...like tears in rain' - Roy Batty as Rutger Hauer in 1982's Blade Runner
2/10 Toy Story
'To infinity...and beyond!' - Buzz Lightyear
3/10 The Italian Job
'You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!' - Michael Caine as Charlie Croker
'Say hello to my little friend' - Al Pacino as Tony Montana in Scarface
5/10 Monty Python's Life of Brian
'He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy!' - Terry Jones as the mother of Brian, a ratbag
'You're gonna need a bigger boat' - Roy Scheider as Brody
7/10 Gone with the Wind
'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!' - Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable
8/10 Carry On Cleo
'Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me!' - Kenneth Williams as Julius Caesar
9/10 Some Like It Hot
'Nobody's perfect' - Osgood E Fielding III as Joe E Brown in Some Like It Hot
10/10 Withnail and I
'We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!' - Withnail, played by Richard E Grant
Gone With the Wind, which was adapted from the Southern writer Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, won 10 Academy Awards in 1940. Yet even then it proved controversial for portraying black stereotypes, sustaining civil war myths and glorifying slavery. When it opened in cinemas, it faced demonstrations and criticism from black audiences.
It was the first colour film to win the best picture Oscar, however; and the best supporting actress, Hattie McDaniel, became the first African-American to win an Academy Award. It is still the biggest-grossing film, selling $1.6bn of tickets when adjusted for inflation.
The American Film Institute polls in 1998 and 2007 put it in the top 10 best US movies, and it was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry in 1989. A poll by Harris Interactive last year named it the most popular film of all time.Reuse content