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Opinion: ‘Gone With the Wind’ is a racist melodrama. Why HBO should still keep it around

"Gone With the Wind," starring Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, and Hattie McDaniel as house servant Mammy
“Gone With the Wind,” starring Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, and Hattie McDaniel as house servant Mammy, garnered McDaniel the first Oscar for an African American performer.
(MGM)

“Gone With the Wind” is gone. In HBO Max’s contribution to the burgeoning anti-racist movement, the streaming video service has pulled the classic movie temporarily —until the service can make it more woke. Or rather until it can add more woke context.

It’s as if we have suddenly descended into a satire about civil unrest where banishing films passes for change. “Gone with the Wind” has been around for eight decades — and it’s been a fusty period piece for at least half that time. Relegating it to the cyber void is not like toppling Confederate statues into a river. And in no way does pulling the movie cleanse Hollywood or the entertainment industry of racial bias and inequity. WarnerMedia, which launched HBO Max, and all Hollywood companies would be better off working harder at diversifying their executive ranks than eliminating celluloid relics of another era.

And it is a relic — a racist melodrama set against a soft veiled view of slavery. It won a slew of Oscars, including a best supporting actress award for Hattie McDaniel, the first Black actress to win the statuette. (She played the house servant/slave, Mammy, a shameful archetype that would keep her typecast for the rest of her career.)

I saw it for the first time when I was 19 or 20 in a theater in my college’s science center. I hated it. It was ridiculous and endless, and Scarlett O’Hara was spoiled and arrogant. And did I really hear her say at the end, “Tomorrow is another day”? To me, a young black woman in college, this was just a silly, overbearing movie — that had slavery in it. I was relieved when it was over and vowed never to see it again.

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John Ridley, an acclaimed screenwriter and director who won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “12 Years a Slave,” argued thoughtfully in The Times earlier this week for taking “Gone With the Wind” out of streaming rotation just for the time being. And now that’s happened.

I don’t disagree with him that it romanticizes the Confederacy and — more ominously — gives cover to people today who would do the same. Ridley’s “12 Years a Slave” is a remarkable movie, riveting and hard to watch but a movie everyone should see. “Gone with the Wind,” you can pass on. But it is a piece of Hollywood history, starring some of the most talented actors of that era, and it should be there — for anyone who does want to see it — without annotation.

I realize that Ridley and the streaming service just want to add contextual analysis to it. Not necessary. If you watch “Gone With the Wind” and don’t get that it’s a piece of the past to be left in the past, then you’ve got problems that the contextual analysis won’t solve.


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