In light of the current events happening in our country, HBO Max (whose library truly is one I need to consider) has chosen to pull the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind from its service. This will be temporary, since they wish to add a disclaimer at the start of the film ensuring viewers what to expect.
This happened around the same time that the long running TV show COPS was cancelled (which I always assumed was reruns). Correct me if I am wrong, but I think GWTW is a bigger piece of pop culture than COPS could ever be. Released over 80 years ago (in what many, including myself, consider to be the best year for film), the Civil War film is still seen by many as one of Hollywood’s most known titles. When adjusted for inflation, it is still number one at the box office both domestically and world wide (while the numbers vary, it is more than likely never to be topped). Actress Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to ever win an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress) for her scene-stealing Mammy. Even if HBO Max were to never put the film back on their service, people will more than likely admire it for how it was a game changer in cinema (as of this writing, various versions of the DVD/Blu Ray’s are the top sellers on Amazon).
Still, there is no doubt about the controversy of the aspect of slavery in the film. While I have not read the original book by Margaret Mitchell (which is over 1,000 pages), many things did not make it from page to screen, such as the use of the N word, which I wager would never be allowed in a movie at that time (the studio already had issues with Rhett Butler saying his now immortal line of “Frankly, my dear…”). The slaves are mostly seen as being fine with their situation because the O’Hara family seem to be one of the few families who don’t abuse their right to own slaves: the only known abuse in the film is when Scarlett (Vivian Leigh) slaps Prissy (Butterfly Mcqueen) for lying when she says her famous line “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthing babies!”. Whether or not such families truly existed is unknown to me, though it is safe to say there were not nearly enough of them (Note: Just to be clear, slavery is wrong).
The idea of hiding movies from the public like this is not new. Perhaps the most known example is of Disney hiding it’s infamous 1946 film Song of the South (also starring Hattie Mcdaniel), which is a film that also tends to romanticize slavery (even though most of the film is told through the eyes of a child). In the film, little Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) learns life lessons through the eyes of Uncle Remus (James Baskets, who won an Honorary Oscar for the film shortly before his death). The film has never been released for viewers at home (VHS or DVD/Blu Ray), and is likely to not be released on Disney Plus anytime in the near future. The only known part of the film that truly lives on is it’s Oscar winning song (and one of the company’s best), “Zip a dee do dah”.
While Song of the South is not as culturally relevant as Gone with the Wind, there is another film that is right up there with it, the 1915 notorious The Birth of a Nation. Even over a century later, D.W. Griffth’s film is still seen as one of the most controversial films ever made. It is still respected for it’s filmmaking, scope, and vision. However, it is not possible to overlook the fact that the KKK is seen in a heroic position in the film, which is still also available on DVD for those who search it out (I got it from my library a few years ago, but was unable to finish it due to the fact that, no matter what movie it is, you need to be prepared to sit down for the long ones).
What am I getting at here? While I do believe in a form of censorship for certain films, I think film preservation is still essential. Yes, I think people should see Song of the South if they want, but as a way of studying film: showing it to your five year old child would be a huge mistake. We need to have the right mindset when we see movies, regardless of how old they are.
In one of the facebook groups I am a part of that talks about movies, a user mentioned how he would not like to see Casablanca because it did nothing to show the horrors of the holocaust. There is a lot to digest there and talk about (for one, the film was not about the holocaust). To go down a road like this and get in the habit of over-politicizing films is, well, it ain’t fitting…it just ain’t fitting.
…it ain’t fitting.