HBO Max’s Sandra Dewey has said the streamer is being “slow and careful” in its plans to bring back “Gone With the Wind” after the film was yanked from the platform in the wake of the George Floyd protests.
Speaking as part of the virtual Banff World Media Festival on Tuesday, the president of business affairs and production for HBO Max told Variety that the platform is still “working out” a strategy to bring the 1939 film back.
“We are being slow and careful and I think that’s the right response. It will be represented, but with context and framing,” said Dewey.
“No one wants to take [away] these pieces of content — and there are many of them — that have what would accurately be depicted as racial insensitivity. We feel that requires a framework in today’s discourse.”
Jacqueline Stewart, University of Chicago cinema professor and host of Turner Classic Movies’ “Silent Sunday Nights,” recently revealed in a CNN op-ed that, when the film returns to HBO Max, she will provide an introduction “placing the film in its multiple historical contexts.”
Dewey, who also oversees business operations for TNT, TBS and truTV, revealed that long before the “Gone with the Wind” scandal, HBO Max also had internal discussions about certain elements of classic Warner Bros. animated series “Looney Tunes,” of which there are many episodes on the platform.
“Looney Tunes,” despite being a children’s classic, has an uncomfortable history, particularly for its depiction of African stereotypes in the ‘Censored 11’ set of episodes. Earlier this month, it was revealed that Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam, who typically carry guns, have been disarmed in the the “Looney Tunes Cartoons” reboot, one of the new originals to launch with the streamer on May 27.
“There was a lot of discussion around going back and looking through them to see whether there were things that were portrayed at different times that were insensitive in many different aspects – and what do you do with that?” said Dewey.
“Because on the one hand, you can say, from the perspective of historical accuracy, you want people to be able to see what [was available] at the time, but at the same time, you don’t want to put that messaging in front of children who can’t contextualize.”
Dewey said WarnerMedia has felt a “real sense of responsibility at this time, both with the pandemic and looking into the face of systemic racism in our country.”
“We feel a heightened sense of responsibility to go at that directly and have a deeper, better understanding to make sure we’re telling the stories and reporting so we can hopefully do the job we’re called upon to do,” said Dewey, referencing new WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar’s directive that all leadership at the company has an “everyday responsibility” to combat racism and discrimination.
HBO Max temporarily removed “Gone With the Wind” from its library in the wake of protests over the death of George Floyd. However, it later said the film would return to the platform, accompanied by a discussion about its historical context and a denouncement of its racist depictions.
“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,” said an HBO Max spokesperson last week.
“If we are to create a more just, equitable and inclusive future, we must first acknowledge and understand our history.”
The removal followed a Los Angeles Times op-ed written by “12 Years a Slave” screenwriter John Ridley, who called for the film to be taken down as it perpetuates racial stereotypes and glorifies the antebellum South.
Starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Hattie McDaniel and Olivia de Havilland, “Gone With the Wind” takes place on a plantation outside Atlanta after the American Civil War. It tells the love story of Scarlett O’Hara (Leigh), the daughter of a plantation owner, and Rhett Butler (Gable), a fellow Southern aristocrat.
The film went on to win eight Academy Awards, including best picture, best actress for Leigh, best director for Victor Fleming and best supporting actress for McDaniel, who was the first Black person to ever win an Oscar.
Upon its release, “Gone With the Wind” broke theater attendance records and was the highest-grossing film of all time to that point. It still holds the record when adjusted for inflation. However, despite being considered one of the greatest films of all time, some film commentators have since criticized its depiction of slavery and Black people.