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‘Gone With the Wind’ and Controversy: What You Need to Know

‘Gone With the Wind’: HBO Max momentarily pulled the movie out of its streaming service after filmmaker John Ridley called out his “painful people of color stereotypes.”

‘Gone With the Wind’ and Controversy What You Need to Know

Once HBO Max went live last month, one of the selling points of the streaming service was its Hollywood classics TCM-branded channel, including “Citizen Kane,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Casablanca”—and “Gone With the Wind,” Margaret Mitchell’s 1939 Oscar-winning adaptation, and, relative to the American Film Institute, the sixth-largest American film ever.

But on Monday, amid demonstrations against police brutality, filmmaker John Ridley wrote an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times pleading with HBO Max to delete “Gone With the Wind” from his streaming collection. “It is a film that glorifies the southern antebellum,” wrote Ridley, who won an Oscar for the screenplay “12 Years a Slave.” “It is a film that pauses only to perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color when it is not ignoring the horrors of slavery.”

The service momentarily withdrew the film from its catalog on Tuesday night, citing the need for “an explanation and a denunciation” of the film’s representations of race relations — probably something close to the “outdated cultural depictions” disclaimer provided on other Disney Plus titles.

“Gone With the Wind” is in fact no stranger to controversy. Here’s a quick description.

I’ve Never Seen the Movie. What’s the Story?

As in the best-selling novel by Mitchell, “Gone With the Wind” is set on a plantation in Georgia during and after the Civil War. The narrator is Scarlett O’Hara (Viven Leigh), the plantation owner’s headstrong daughter, and her romantic adventures are the principal subject of the plot. But a decent amount of the film’s leisurely 221-minute running time is spent on the fight to hold the plantation afloat, and on Scarlett’s ties with the family’s slaves, including Prissy (Butterfly McQueen), Pork (Oscar Polk) and Mammy (Hattie McDaniel, who won an Oscar for her performance — the first so honored African-American).

What Do Critics Object To?

The key point of contention, as Ridley says, is the romanticizing of the antebellum south by the film, and its whitewashing of the horrors of slavery. The film portrays the pre-Civil War period of the area as a utopia of peaceful living, and the Northern powers as interlopers, trying to destroy the way of life. The servant characters are written and played as docile and content, more dedicated to their white masters than to their fellow enslaved people’s struggle (and uninterested in leaving the post-war plantation). And, as in D.W. Griffith’s horrifying hit “The Birth of a Nation,” the film casts the Reconstruction era’s freed slaves as morally dangerous and politically naive.

How Was It Received When It Was Released?

Most critics engaged in a praise chorus, and film-goers flocked to theaters. When adjusted for ticket price inflation, it remains the top-grossing film of all time. Thus delighted was the academy, awarding it 10 Oscars for best picture, best actress, best director (Victor Fleming) and, of course, the statuette of McDaniel.

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