Down Wind

Hattie McDaniel, pictured here with Vivien Lee, in a scene from Gone With The Wind (1939) was not allowed to attend the premiere of the film in Atlanta because of her race. In two short months, McDaniel would become the first black actor nominated and the first to win an Academy Award for her supporting role as “Mammy” in the film.

GWTW won eight competitive and two honorary “Oscars” on February 29, 1940 at the 12th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, beating out MGM’s classic musical, and multi-nominated film, The Wizard of Oz.

McDaniel, in attendance this time, was forced to sit in a segregated “colored section,” separate from the white actors, on the night she made history.

The film’s colossal success at the Awards continued at the box office, and today it remains one of the most-watched films in cinema history. Inflation-adjusted, the film has made over three billion dollars.

All of its success, however, has come to a dubious halt. HBO has temporarily removed the film from its MAX lineup citing that the film’s depictions are counter to Warner Media’s values. And while GWTW will return, HBO will include “new material added for the purpose of providing context and addressing the film’s historical shortcomings.”

Before anyone blames the decision to ban GWTW on the current movement, perhaps this reminder is necessary: In 2017, the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee discontinued its 34-year run of the film, citing “racial insensitivity.”

But why? Well, let‘s get to it.

12 Years a Slave screenwriter, John Ridley, says, “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.”

And if that‘s not enough perspective, perhaps professor Dr. Todd Boyd, the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture of Cinema at USC, can help when he says, “Attempting to erase the past is never a good thing. On the other hand, hiding behind weak arguments about how the film can be enjoyed without indulging the racism of its time is especially disingenuous.”

Is GWTW headed toward a full-court press?

NBA Hall of Famer turned columnist, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has never been shy about his views, poses an important question: “Whether or not works of art should be censored, regardless of how offensive they are?” Like Ridley, he suggests “given the current public heated climate of widespread protests over police brutality and systemic racism, maybe let’s hold off shoving the joys of slavery and heroes of racism in our faces.”

Although Abdul-Jabbar doesn’t call for a ban, he’s critical of the opportunities children have to watch anything they want without a shred of context. And while he admits that parents have a role to play in these circumstances, he also worries about parents who “say nothing to their children, or worse, praise the film’s portrayals of history.”

It’s obviously no secret why period pieces, romanticized or not, are making their way back into the foray. We are in a period of crises, where days seem to be measured by blood pressure. I’m hopeful that when emotions subside, we can engage in collective discourse that is replete with reasonable and necessary solutions.

For me, GWTW is an amalgamation of “alternative facts.” It unabashedly presents the enslavement of people as an acceptable condition. Moreover, it unapologetically ignores the circumstances that resulted in the Civil War, perpetuating the myth that one of our bloodiest wars was not fought over slavery.

Before you cry censorship, or the always popular “It’s just a movie,” recognize a couple of things. First the former, the film was added to the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress in 1989. To that end, it‘s there for posterity. And deservedly, McDaniel has her place there, too. Second, it’s more than just a movie. Some things – like film — are transcendent for all the wrong reasons. So put aside your romanticization of film for a second, and look at the bigger picture.

I have little doubt that those who argue that GWTW is innocuous, are the same people who aren‘t listening — truly listening — to the discourse taking place all across America today.

If removing a film from a few platforms because it’s insensitive to a large segment of the population is too much for you to bear, then I’ll be seeing you on the other side of history. And hopefully, by then, all of your Dixie-ways will be gone with the wind, too.

And to borrow from today’s ubiquitous shorthand, I’ll end with this: GWTW GTFOH.

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