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Gone with the Wind: Why has the film been accused of racism and will it return to HBO Max?

Best Picture winner has been removed from HBO Max amid Black Lives Matter protests

Isobel Lewis
Wednesday 10 June 2020 13:40 BST
Aerial footage shows massive crowd at Black Lives Matter protest in Philadelphia

The debate surrounding Gone with the Wind and allegations of racism have resurfaced in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, as HBO Max temporarily removed the film from its platform on Wednesday (10 June).

Over the years, the 1939 Best Picture winner has been criticised for presenting the Antebellum South and horrors of slavery through rose-tinted glasses.

Speaking about the decision, a HBO Max spokesperson said: “Gone with the Wind is a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society.” They added that HBO plans for the film to return in a way that references its historical context.

Set during the US Civil War, the historical romance follows the love story of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), the daughter of a plantation owner and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), a gambler.

Gone With the Wind has an uncomfortable history: Donald Trump called for it to be “brought back” in the wake of South Korean film Parasite’s win at the 2020 Academy Awards, and it has been reappraised by alt-right groups following the rise of the movement across the United States.

White-washing of slavery

Gone with the Wind has been accused of whitewashing slavery and even romanticising the treatment of black people in the south through racist archetypes.

The black characters in the film are portrayed as being content and happy to benefit from the kindness of their white benefactors, with something akin to friendship or family forming between Scarlett and Mammy, a domestic servant.

Played by Hattie McDaniel – who won an Oscar for the role but was segregated from her white cast members at the ceremony - Mammy sees the white people who give her employment as good, while other black people are “bad” and referred to using racial slurs.

Reports claimed that McDaniel was “race-proud” and hated using this language, but the actor warned co-star Butterfly McQueen, who played another maid, Prissy, that she would never get another job with producer David Selznick if she kept complaining about the “inauthenticity”.

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Reimagining of the Civil War

One of the biggest criticisms made against Gone With The Wind is its attempt to rewrite history in reference to the Civil War and its causes.

In 2020, it may seem obvious that the war, which took place from 1861 to 1865 between Union and Confederate states, was caused by a battle over slavery and the south’s desire to own slaves.

But around the time that Gone with the Wind was being made, as the last Confederate veterans were dying, there was a re-emergence in the revisionist “Lost Cause” ideology, which theorises that the south was simply trying to defend its “states’ rights” from northern aggression.

As a result, northerners are painted as uncivilised soldiers trying to take the romantic way of life away from the doomed society of the Antebellum South, while Confederate soldiers were heroic and noble.

Negative view of freemen

During the reconstruction era, as many slaves were freed and joined society for the first time, there was a lot of concern regarding how this would affect the south as white people knew it.

These concerns are raised throughout Gone with the Wind, with one scene – which shows McDaniel’s Mammy fending off a leering freeman – suggesting that emancipated slaves were immoral and a threat to women of all racial backgrounds.

In the same scene, a government official can be heard in the background offering bribes to the freemen. This implies that emancipated slaves were politically and personally naive and too easily manipulated to properly integrate into a Reconstruction era society.

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