Gone with the Wind Removed from HBO Max

Thanks to the Black Lives Matter protests happening around the world, people are starting to listen more intently when it comes to supporting more diversity and stopping racial prejudice. And that includes the entertainment industry. In fact, HBO Max has listened to the plea of one specific black filmmaker when it comes to removing a film that is highly regarded as a classic but also perpetuates some upsetting, inaccurate depictions of slavery and racial stereotypes.

Gone with the Wind has been removed from the HBO Max library for the time being after 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley wrote a passionate op-ed asking for the film to be taken down. The streaming service removed the film last night and made an official statement explaining their stance on the film’s prejudice and problematic portrayals of slavery. You can read it below.

If you haven’t seen Gone with the Wind, the Victor Fleming film follows Vivien Leigh as a southern belle named Scarlett O’Hara, a pampered socialite living on a sprawling plantation who becomes entangled in a love triangle with two men, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). It all unfolds throughout the South’s battle in the Civil War and the Reconstruction that followed, but it does so in a fashion that sentimentalizes the region and glosses over the real prejudice that existed there.

John Ridley wrote this about Gone with the Wind in his op-ed for the Los Angeles Times:

“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. 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.”

Indeed, the film depicts a much more tame, inaccurate picture of slavery than what we know about the Civil War era of American history. Slaves are shown to be content and loyal to their owners, and they’re even treated well by the people they work for. That’s just not how it was back then, and the depiction of the South in this fashion is irresponsible.

Even though Ridley asked for Gone with the Wind to be taken down from HBO Max, he clarified that he doesn’t think this film should remain hidden away or ignored completely. Ridley wrote:

“Let me be real clear: I don’t believe in censorship. I don’t think “Gone With the Wind” should be relegated to a vault in Burbank. I would just ask, after a respectful amount of time has passed, that the film be re-introduced to the HBO Max platform along with other films that give a more broad-based and complete picture of what slavery and the Confederacy truly were. Or, perhaps it could be paired with conversations about narratives and why it’s important to have many voices sharing stories from different perspectives rather than merely those reinforcing the views of the prevailing culture.”

During this time, or any time really, it’s probably not best to promote a movie with inaccurate and racially insensitive representations of history without providing the right context. For their part, HBO Max made a pledge to bring the movie back when they can offer up a discussion about its historical context along with it. Here’s what HBO Max officially said about their decision to remove Gone with the Wind:

“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.”

This is something that Warner Bros. has addressed before in a similar fashion with Looney Tunes. Some of the classic animated shorts also contain racially insensitive depictions of black people and other races, and while some have been removed from syndication, others have still been included in collections released on home video, but a disclaimer is offered to clarify their historical context.

In the case of Gone with the Wind, it might be better to have some kind of introduction by a film historian or critic who can provide historical context so people understand that the movie does not represent an accurate version of history. While there are already cries about censorship from right-wing conservatives about how taking down a movie like Gone with the Wind is rewriting history, they fail to understand that it’s the movie itself that rewrites history, which is exactly why it needs to be presented in a way that shines a light on its missteps.

If you need any more evidence that Gone with the Wind requires more historical context, it should be noted that even though the movie resulted in Hattie McDaniel becoming the first African-American to win an Oscar for her role as the house servant Mammy, she wasn’t allowed to sit at the table with her co-stars Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. Instead, she sat at a small table up against a far wall. At that time, the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where the Academy Awards were held had a “no blacks” code, and producer David O. Selznick had to make a special request to even get her in the building.

This is why we can’t blindly celebrate a movie like Gone with the Wind, as classic as it may be. These kind of productions should not be ignored or erased from cinema history, but they need to be discussed with significant hindsight and context so people understand the time in which these movies were made.

It’s not clear when Gone with the Wind will return to HBO Max, but we’ll keep you posted.

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