“Gone With the Wind” is back on HBO Max — with an introductory disclaimer that discuss the historical context of the classic film. WarnerMedia had pulled the movie two weeks ago, citing the need to address its “racist depictions.”
In the intro video, which now plays on HBO Max before the movie starts, Turner Classic Movies host and film scholar Jacqueline Stewart discusses “why this 1939 epic drama should be viewed in its original form, contextualized and discussed.” A second video provided with the title is a one-hour recording of a panel discussion, “The Complicated Legacy of ‘Gone With the Wind,'” from the TCM Classic Film Festival in April 2019, moderated by author and historian Donald Bogle.
Stewart, in the 4:26-minute segment HBO Max also added as an extra feature for “Gone With the Wind,” calls the movie “one of most enduringly popular films of all time.”
At the same time, “The film has been repeatedly protested, dating back the announcement of its production,” Stewart says. “Producer David O. Selznick was well aware that Black audiences were deeply concerned about the film’s handling of the topic of slavery and its treatment of Black characters.”
Despite Selznick’s assurances to the Black community that he would be sensitive to their concerns, “Gone With the Wind” presents “the Antebellum South as a world of grace and beauty without acknowledging the brutalities of the system of chattel slavery upon which this world is based,” Stewart says.
The enslaved Black people in “Gone With the Wind” conform to old racial stereotypes, “as servants notable for their devotion to their white masters or for their ineptitude,” Stewart says. She continues, “The film’s treatment of this world through a lens of nostalgia denies the horrors of slavery, as well as its legacies of racial inequality.”
Stewart, a professor of film and media studies at University of Chicago, also notes that Black cast members were not allowed to attend the movie’s premiere because of Georgia’s Jim Crow segregation laws. In addition, Hattie McDaniel, who was the first African-American person to ever win an Academy Award for her portrayal of the servant Mammy in the film, was not allowed to sit with the other cast members at the Oscars.
“Watching ‘Gone With the Wind’ can be uncomfortable, even painful,” Stewart says. “Still, it is important that classic Hollywood films are available to us in their original form for viewing and discussion.”
WarnerMedia’s prepending of Stewart’s discussion of the film comes amid the backdrop of nationwide Black Lives Matters protests over the police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd. The company temporarily yanked “Gone With the Wind” from HBO Max after “12 Years a Slave” screenwriter John Ridley, in a June 8 Los Angeles Times op-ed, urged WarnerMedia to remove the film. “It doesn’t just ‘fall short’ with regard to representation. It is a film that glorifies the Antebellum South,” Ridley wrote. “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.”
“Gone With the Wind” stars Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Hattie McDaniel and Olivia de Havilland. The film, adapted from the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell, is set during the Civil War and the Reconstruction era and follows the story of Scarlett O’Hara, the daughter of a Georgia cotton plantation owner.
HBO Max’s description of the film, which clocks in at 3 hours and 41 minutes, reads, “Scarlett O’Hara’s battle to save her beloved Tara and find love during the Civil War.”
The movie won eight competitive Oscars including best picture, best actress for Leigh, best director for Victor Fleming and best supporting actress for McDaniel. The American Film Institute ranks “Gone With the Wind” — which was the very first movie to air on TCM in 1994 — as the No. 4 best American movie of all time, after “Citizen Kane,” “Casablanca” and “The Godfather.” Adjusted for inflation, “Gone With the Wind” remains the highest-grossing film at the box office ever.
Last November, Disney Plus shortly after it first launched added warnings on some older films that they contained “outdated cultural depictions.” Those include the original “Dumbo,” “The Aristocats,” “Lady and the Tramp” and “Jungle Book.” Meanwhile, Disney’s 1946 musical film “Song of the South” hasn’t been available in any format for more than three decades because of its racist depictions of African-Americans.