'Gone With The Wind' Returns To HBO Max With Intro By Expert In African American Film
RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: There's a famous shot in the 1939 Hollywood epic "Gone With The Wind."
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MARTIN: Scarlett O'Hara, played by Vivien Leigh, walks through an Atlanta rail yard that's littered with the bodies of Confederate soldiers. The camera pulls back and reveals a Confederate flag flapping in the wind defiantly, the soaring music signaling that this, the Confederate South, is the victim and hero of this tale. The streaming platform HBO Max pulled "Gone With The Wind," citing racist depictions. But last week, it rereleased the film with a new introduction.
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JACQUELINE STEWART: From its prologue, the film paints the picture of the antebellum South as a romantic, idyllic setting that's tragically been lost to the past.
MARTIN: Cinema scholar Jacqueline Stewart provides that new context. She told me what she felt the film was missing and why it's still worth revisiting.
STEWART: This is a film that has been loved and hated since it was released - actually, since before it was released. And I think what has been missing in many of the presentations of "Gone With The Wind" is a discussion of the many layers of historical significance that the film has.
For too long, I think we have been presented this film in a way that focuses on it as a fiction, as a fantasy, but not as a text that also teaches us something about the history of Hollywood filmmaking and the ongoing impact that many of these narratives have had in the - not just American, but in the global imagination about slavery and the Civil War.
MARTIN: Is it appropriate or perhaps too simplistic to call "Gone With The Wind" a racist film?
STEWART: It's not inappropriate to call it a racist film. It's a film that glorifies a system of brutality. It is a film that really showcases a kind of racist ideology that was tied to the Confederate regime. It's a film that downplays the, you know, just inhumane treatment of enslaved African people in the United States. And so, in that way, it exemplifies the kinds of concerns that I think people rightly have about the role that mainstream media plays in shaping our understanding of race and our interpretation of Black people in particular.
MARTIN: So what you have done for HBO in this film - provide this context - is that like the film equivalent of a plaque next to a Confederate statue, explaining its racist roots?
STEWART: I think so, actually. I think that's a good analogy. I think that it's important for us not to erase the evidence of our racist history. These are not gestures that end the conversation, but rather, I think that they're important markers in the conversation that we need to have as we educate ourselves and have more meaningful and impactful conversations about race in America.
The point is that when we begin to pay closer attention to these dynamics and when we have the ability to complicate the pleasures that we get from these works, I think that then puts us in a position of having more meaningful discussion about them.
MARTIN: Have you thought that through to its logical extreme, though? I mean, it sounds like you have. Like, at what point do you say, we need to contextualize "Gone With The Wind," but, you know, other film, TV, works of entertainment from the '50s, '60s that are racist, that are misogynist, those can just stand?
STEWART: It is a slippery slope, but I guess I don't think so much in terms of, where do we stop, which seems to be the way that most people frame the question. I think we're still in a place that we haven't figured out where to start doing this. I don't think we need blanket policies at this point about how we're going to handle every text that could potentially offend someone. I think that it makes sense to begin or, for some of us, continue this conversation but in a more kind of prominent platform with a film like "Gone With The Wind" because it is so prominent. You know, it stands as the highest-grossing film of all time.
So I think this is an important case, and we look at the kinds of conversations that we can structure around "Gone With The Wind," and then we can move from there to think about, well, what are the other strategies that we might use with regard to other films?
MARTIN: "Gone With The Wind," for all its problems, was groundbreaking in that it made actress Hattie McDaniel the first African American to win an Oscar.
STEWART: Yes. Yes.
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HATTIE MCDANIEL: ...For your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble, and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry.
STEWART: It's extremely important. Yes, I mean, Hattie McDaniel becoming the first African American to win an Oscar was a signal to many people that Hollywood was recognizing the - not just the work of this particular artist but that there would be increased possibilities for African Americans in Hollywood filmmaking. But that was not the case, and Hattie McDaniel didn't get lots of new or more meaty roles as a result of winning the Oscar. She continued to play maids.
And we can't forget that when Hattie McDaniel attended the 12th Academy Awards celebration, her table was not the table where her producer David O. Selznick and the rest of the cast was sitting; there was a special exception that was made at the Coconut Grove club that night. It was a whites-only club. And she was allowed to sit at a small table at the side of the room. Knowing that, I think that we can't watch the film in the same way. I don't think we should watch the film in the same way.
MARTIN: Jacqueline, thank you so much for talking with us.
STEWART: Thanks so much for having me. Be well.
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NOEL KING, HOST:
That was our co-host Rachel Martin talking to film scholar Jacqueline Stewart. She provided a new introduction with historical context to the movie "Gone With The Wind" for its rerelease on HBO Max.
(SOUNDBITE OF JAQUELINE SCHWAB'S "BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.