Friday, June 12, 2020

Canceling "Gone with the Wind"

From David Harsanyi at The National Review:
We don’t need a disclaimer on Gone with the Wind any more than we need them Mark Twain’s books or movies based on Kipling’s stories. I run across anti-Semitic stereotypes in literature all the time. I don’t need you to repudiate Shakespeare’s or Dickens’ portrayal of Jews, because I get it. I don’t need you to cancel Roald Dahl or Evelyn Waugh even if they occasionally trafficked in bigotry. They’re both dead. Their work isn’t. They were geniuses. We’re adults. 
Gone with the Wind is historic document for a number of reasons. It was one of the most popular films ever made. Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American actor to win an Oscar. The screenplay was written by the great journalist and writer Ben Hecht, an early advocate of both civil rights and Jewish self-determination. In many ways, the movie shows us how far we’ve come. Trying to erase history is one a characteristics of an illiberal society. We have no reason to engage in it. (Read more.)

Should Hattie's stellar performance be erased? From The Federalist:
But now it is no longer sufficient to erase the Minstrel Show, now the performance that netted the first Academy Award for a black actor must also be toppled and hid away like some statue of a Confederate general. It is a very sad travesty. McDaniel was an artist, before anything else. Her life’s work was to bring characters to life and entertain, and she was a master at it. Are we really going to stop people from seeing her work because it doesn’t match up with contemporary mores about race? 
This is truly a case where the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. This is part of a broader erasure of black performers from the first decades of the 20th Century. These were absolute trailblazers who by the way were not unaware of the unequal treatment they received. But their perseverance opened the door for actors of every race to eventually play major roles in the American entertainment culture. 
HBO promises that the ‘Gone With The Wind’ will return, eventually placed in some kind of context. Perhaps a panel discussion appended to the movie, or a warning label, who really knows? But who are they protecting and from what? Americans know that slavery was brutal and evil; they aren’t going to watch the movie and suddenly think it was fine. Trust people to contextualize the material themselves. (Read more.
UPDATE: This is from a few years ago at The Washington Post but still pertinent. To quote:
The truth is, there’s more to “Gone With the Wind” than its stereotypes. I sympathize with any viewer who simply can’t make it past the depictions of black characters, or a subplot about the Klan. I understand how tired those tropes and stories are. For those who can make it past those depictions, though, “Gone With the Wind” casts a more gimlet eye on the Confederacy than it often gets credit for.
What makes Scarlett an iconic heroine is not that she unquestioningly embraces the perspectives of her slave-holding class during the war or the Lost Cause mythology that congeals after it, but that she sees the hypocrisy and self-deception that animate her peers. What makes Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) an appealing romantic hero is that for much of the film, he encourages Scarlett’s rebellion from these ideals when everyone else encourages her to conform to them. The climax of the movie comes when Scarlett recognizes that she never really loved Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), the dreamy but fundamentally weak product of the Southern slavocracy.



julygirl said...

Wonder what Hattie McDaniel and the other Af-Americn actors in the film would have thought of this. I know what I think of it, but since I am coming from "White Privilege" what I think is not valid.

elena maria vidal said...

There are many brilliant and nuanced performances by African-American actors in the film which shine in spite of the restrictions upon them. It is a shame for those to be lost.

julygirl said...

What about current films from Black producers and directors such as Spike Lee that show Blacks as murderers and thugs....way more racially negative than anything in "Gone With the Wind"!