Few American movies are more classic than Gone With the Wind, but its legendary status has almost always come with a caveat: the movie also whitewashes slavery and has been part of reinforcing of the country’s favorite and most damaging myths about its own history. Now fledgling streaming service HBO Max has pulled the classic from their library and will bring it back with new context about the realities of slavery in the antebellum South.
“It doesn’t just ‘fall short’ with regard to representation. It is a film that glorifies the antebellum south. It is a film that, when it is not ignoring the horrors of slavery, pauses only to perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color,” wrote 12 Years A Slave screenwriter John Ridley in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. “It is a film that, as part of the narrative of the ‘Lost Cause,’ romanticizes the Confederacy in a way that continues to give legitimacy to the notion that the secessionist movement was something more, or better, or more noble than what it was — a bloody insurrection to maintain the ‘right’ to own, sell and buy human beings.”
Exactly what the new, contextualized version of Gone With the Wind might look like remains to be seen, but HBO Max said the movie would be back with a “discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions.”
In a lengthy statement to the Hollywood Reporter, an HBO Max spokesperson explained the decision.
“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. These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible. These depictions are certainly counter to WarnerMedia’s values, so when we return the film to HBO Max, it will return with a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions, but will be presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. If we are to create a more just, equitable and inclusive future, we must first acknowledge and understand our history.”
Gone With the Wind became one of the highest-grossing films in history and won eight Academy Awards when it released in 1939. Directed by Victor Fleming and starring an all-star ensemble cast featuring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Hattie McDaniel and Olivia de Havilland, the movie’s controversies are nearly as old as its acclaim. The movie is set in the post-Civil War South and features slaves who are seemingly content with their work, even after the abolition of slavery.
Hattie McDaniel actually became the first black person to win an Oscar for her performance in the movie, but she was not allowed to sit with her white co-stars at the ceremony. Instead, she was sat at a table in the back of the room.