Cancel Culture: Gone With the Winds of War and Peace
SAN DIEGO: In their zeal to hop on board and embrace the latest politically correct version of “racism protests” HBO MAX decided to temporarily pull the iconic film, Gone With the Wind. Many are pushing back on this latest item from the Cancel Culture. Amazon sales of this movie just went through the roof. (‘Gone With the Wind’ Hits No. 1 on Amazon Best-Sellers Chart After HBO Max Drops Movie – Variety Magazine)
There are probably several reasons. Some people hate censorship and are stating as much. Others, never having seen the film, wish to decide for themselves about its content instead of allowing thought police to do their thinking for them. Others simply love the movie and want to make sure they have their own copy before the digital age of book burning erases all “unapproved” art.
HBO MAX (part of AT&T-owned WarnerMedia) is claiming the film will be back but only with “historical context.” They issued the following statement:
“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.”
Better to have the movie return in that context than not have it back at all. Still, before this immediate incident leaves the news cycle, some pause and reflection is in order.
Yes, Gone With the Wind was about the Civil War from the point of view of the South.
But the emphasis was not on slavery. Instead, Gone With the Wind primarily focuses on the war’s effect upon widows, especially aristocratic widows. Even that is only Act One of a four-hour epic. The primary theme is Atlanta’s life AFTER the war, told through the eyes of woman’s suffrage.
Without question, there were objectionable references to race and slavery in Margaret Mitchell’s original 1936 novel from which the film is based. To this day, people debate. Was Mitchell’s romanticized depiction of the South her own, or an honest attempt to get into the heads and vantage point of the characters in her work? Probably it was a little of both.
Novel discussions notwithstanding, the 1939 film’s screenplay (which Mitchell did not collaborate on) went out of its way to remove racist language found in the book.
Fair objections to both movie and book still continue and always will. But objection and censorship are two completely different matters!
Should anything, book or movie be censored? The Cancel Culture is our current discussion.
In that vein, allow me to clarify my own motive right now. Among other professions, I am a fiction writer who feels passionate about the arts, not the old South.
I am also of Jewish ancestry, a people as much hated by the KKK and Young American NAZI party as African-Americans. I was raised in California with no love for the Confederacy and no remorse for its demise.
Obviously, all decent people of conscience today, whether they live in the North or the South, whether they are Jew or Gentile, black or white, will feel the same.
The fact remains: Selznick’s 1939 version of Gone With the Wind is both an exceptionally made film and a great historical time capsule. It talked very little about slavery and made no justification for the institution.
As a matter of fact, Hattie McDonnell, who portrayed a freed slave in the film, was the very first African-American to ever win an acting Academy Award!
Needless to say, that broke some significant ground in 1939. Unfortunately, it was not nearly enough ground. So much more could have been done to “equalize” Ms. McDaniel.
According to the Hollywood Reporter,
“The 12th Academy Awards were held at the famed Cocoanut Grove nightclub in The Ambassador Hotel. McDaniel arrived in a rhinestone-studded turquoise gown with white gardenias in her hair….then was escorted, not to the Gone With the Wind table — where Selznick sat with de Havilland and his two Oscar-nominated leads, Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable — but to a small table set against a far wall, where she took a seat with her escort, F.P. Yober, and her white agent, William Meiklejohn. With the hotel’s strict no-blacks policy, Selznick had to call in a special favor just to have McDaniel allowed into the building (it was officially integrated by 1959, when the Unruh Civil Rights Act outlawed racial discrimination in California).”
This was an ironic contradiction to be sure. No big surprise, considering the year, long before the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The evening was nevertheless a historical milestone.
But nuanced perspectives of history with its baby-step progress are lost on the arrogant self-righteousness who look back through time with 20-20 hindsight.
Disney self Cancel Cultures Song of the South
Oddly enough, another movie, Disney’s Song of the South, was also pulled years ago, by the Disney company itself. This happened long after the film’s original 1946 release and several theatrical re-releases. Despite Song of the South’s deliberate anti-racism message and post Civil War setting, rare and bold for its day, it was accused by some of “glorifying slavery.” (‘Song of the South’: Why the Controversial Disney Movie Is Not on Disney Plus)
This cancel culture controversy had a similar inherent irony; another African-American actor in the film, James Basket, received a special Academy Award.
Ingrid Bergman and Jean Hersholt presented Baskett with a bronze replica of the famous gold statuette for his “able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus in ‘Song of the South’.” Unfortunately, due to segregation, much of the cast could not attend the Fox Theater Oscar festivities.
Far greater progress, void of traditional stereotypes, happened in the year 1964. The Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Actor in a Leading Role was won by Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field. Poitier, a Bahamian-American, played a worker who encountered a group of East German nuns. The nuns believed he was sent to them by God to build them a new chapel.
Yes, the types of film roles going to people of color have seen a slow evolution, but evolution nevertheless. This is important to remember in the midst of Cancel Culture wars.
Make no mistake; the Cancel Culture attack on films is just beginning.
If you think this discussion will be over after the current HBO/Gone With the Wind incident, think again.
What will be next? The elimination of any movie which showed African-American cooks and housekeepers, even as employees, not slaves? If so, kiss two Christmas classics goodbye, Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life. (Sorry. I shouldn’t be planting ideas.)
How about any movie with an all-white cast? That’s most of the film history!
How about movies that include African- Americans but do not feature Asians or Hispanics?
Do not misunderstand me. I am grateful that casts are now more diverse. All of us should be. But are we ready to throw out every picture from the past?
Yes, this is only the beginning. Either people take a stand against censorship or our entire American culture itself may soon be “gone with the wind.”
This is Bob Siegel, making the obvious, obvious.