A day after WarnerMedia’s Sandra Dewey promised a virtual Cannes that Gone With the Wind would be back on HBO Max “very soon,” the controversial 1939 film has indeed returned – with some poignant historical context “about the film’s handling of the topic of slavery, and its treatment of Black characters.”
Pulled from the AT&T-owned new-ish streamer on June 9, the film set in the Antebellum Sout now comes with three new videos that are part disclaimer and part re-evaluation of the Academy Award winner.
One of the extra videos sees TCM’s Silent Sunday Nights host Jacqueline Stewart giving both a sprawling and specific critique of the epic starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland and Hattie McDaniel as cinema and cultural advocacy for white supremacy. A second newly added video is the 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival panel that Donald Bogle moderated on the bluntly titled “The Complicated Legacy of Gone With the Wind.”
The another repurposed TCM video accompanying GWTW on HBO Max is Hattie McDaniel: What a Character! Forced to sit at the back of the Coconut Grove Restaurant of the Ambassador Hotel for the 12th Academy Awards, McDaniel become the first African-American to win an Oscar for her supporting role. The just over four minute video included with the film on the streamer details McDaniels’ career and talents.
Deftly, the University of Chicago’s Department of Cinema and Media Studies professor Stewart asserts in her nearly five-minute video that the David O. Selznick-produced film intentionally depicts “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.”
“Gone With the Wind, with its landmark production values, signature scenes and iconic characters has shaped the way generations have pictured slavery and the reconstruction period that followed,” Stewart adds of the film. The scholar also says contemporary viewers should watch the movie “to reflect on their own beliefs.”
“It is not only a major document of Hollywood’s racist practices of the past, but also an enduring work of popular culture that speaks directly to the racial inequalities that persist in media and society today,” Stewart said of the Best Picture winner.
Often grotesquely depicting slaves pretty pleased with their status and unflinchingly loyal to their white owners, this latest turn and return for the long rightly lambasted Gone With the Wind came as America was shaken by the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day by Minneapolis cops and the protests against systemic racism and police brutality that followed.
In that vein, the movee was the subject of a scathing Los Angeles Times op-ed by Oscar winner John Ridley on June 8. Titled “Hey, HBO, ‘Gone With the Wind’ romanticizes the horrors of slavery. Take it off your platform for now,” the piece by the 12 Years a Slave screenwriter noted the argument between the film as a work of art, its time, and the time we live in today. With that context, Ridley said, “at a moment when we are all considering what more we can do to fight bigotry and intolerance, I would ask that all content providers look at their libraries and make a good-faith effort to separate programming that might be lacking in its representation from that which is blatant in its demonization.”
“I might not be able to watch it, but some people can,” Ridley said of GWTW in a later interview with Deadline. “That’s fine, but bigger conversations need to be had around it, about the managed rehabilitation of what the Confederacy was and how that was used in some ways to buttress segregation and Jim Crow.”
It should be noted that as HBO Max declared “if we are to create a more just, equitable and inclusive future, we must first acknowledge and understand our history” when it took Gone With the Wind offline, the film rocketed to the top of Amazon’s film and TV bestseller list in its DVD, Blu-ray and the 70th Anniversary Edition forms.