Gone with the Wind: a reassessment

Most of you have probably heard that HBO Max has decided to temporarily pull the famous movie “Gone With the Wind” from its streaming services, later to replace it with a version that has an explanatory introduction by University of Chicago Cinema and Media studies professor Jacqueline Stewart.

This New York Times article gives the details:

When I first saw this movie as a teenager, its racism was palpable: not only was slavery whitewashed, so to speak, with the slaves depicted as the usual “happy darkies” of that era, but the two black supporting actors, Butterfly McQueen and Hattie McDaniel (the latter winning an Oscar for her role) seemed to me stereotypical blacks as depicted in that era (1939), shown as groveling, happy-go-lucky, slow-witted toadies, though I have to admit that McDaniel had a bit of nuance in her role. (Another example is Stepin Fetchit, who starred with Shirley Temple.)

Still, as I’ve said before, anybody with two neurons to rub together should be able to see the racism in “Gone with the Wind”, so why not simply show it by itself without the “explanation and indictment,” which could be overly political and ideological. After all, I told myself, it’s patronizing for someone to tell people why a movie is bad. And it’s also subjective, and, depending who the “explainer” is, could be dire and contentious. And of course the movie, despite its misrepresentations, is still a classic, remaining the highest-grossing movie of all time when adjusted for inflation. Beyond the racism, it’s romantic and engrossing, and the photography is very good. It’s surely worth seeing by everyone, just as “Triumph of the Will” despite its fawning over Hitler, should be seen by all (it also has pathbreaking cinematography). “Gone With the Wind” portrays attitudes about slavery that are outmoded, but do we need to hear why they’re bad. Yesterday I thought “not really: we already know.”

I’ve now changed my mind about thinking the movie should be shown without commentary. When I was thinking about how I’d show this movie in a class, I certainly wouldn’t overlook the racism. But rather than lecturing to the class about why the movie is racist, I’d try to get the students to discuss it, and hopefully would have black students in class. After all, it’s this kind of discussion that changes people’s minds, not hectoring about “why this film is racist.” I’d do the same were I teaching Huckleberry Finn.

But HBO’s presentation cannot involve teaching in that way. And by presenting the film without comment, it’s omitting any context, and bestowing what some might see as approbation for the film. You may not know, for instance, that black Americans repeatedly attacked and even picketed the movie for its racism and false depiction of slavery. Here’s a photo from the New York Times article of a protest in 1940:

American Newspapers/Gado, via Getty Images

While I thought that an “explanation” was patronizing, I now think it’s necessary, and applaud HBO for making the movie available and not censoring it, but also giving people the opportunity to hear some context by Dr. Stewart. I would hope she’d avoid excessive polemic. (Her piece in CNN, below, suggests that she’ll draw a line from the film to the protests of today, for she argues that films like “Gone With the Wind” “have played a major role in perpetuating the racist belies that devalue Black lives and normalize the use of excessive force against Black people.” To me, that’s going too far, and I’d prefer not to have Critical Race Theory brought into the analysis. But we don’t yet know what she’ll say.)

How would I “contextualize” the movie? Instead of having a single voice be “The Interpreter,” I’d create a short film incorporating a number of voices, similar to how I’d teach it in the classroom. Most of those voices would be black ones, for it is blacks who have called out the racism of the film. But at least the viewer would get a number of viewpoints from a number of scholars, film experts, and others (Spike Lee would be a good choice)—a diversity of views that would be more likely to foster discussion.

What about other films? Should we do this with Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will“, or “The Eternal Jew“, Nazi propaganda films, with the latter viciously anti-Semitic (like “Triumph of the Will”, it is also available on the Internet, so you can see how horrible it is)? Those films should definitely be available, for I firmly believe we should not erase history, and there’s much history to learn from these and similar pieces of bigotry. But we should contextualize history, especially when movies don’t contextualize it themselves (“Schindler’s List” is an example of a film where evil is presented as evil).

Below is Dr. Stewart’s analysis of the film on CNN (click on the screenshot), which is pretty reasonable though I worry about her being the sole interpreter. Will I watch the movie again? I doubt it: I’ve seen it twice and when it’s not racist it’s schmalzy.

Feel free to weigh in below about whether you think the movie should be “contextualized,” and, if so, how you’d like that to be done.

77 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. nay
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Contextualized – in the way PCC(E) suggests – is the way we should see every movie of this type. I don’t know what American elementary, middle and high schools are teaching now – don’t get me started on elected school boards – but the bad messages may be too subtle to be “self evident”. I like GWTW, I like the characters, the dialogue, the scenery, and the costumes. The lesson of Scarlett walking through the battlefield hospital is one I didn’t notice when I was a kid, only when I saw it again as an adult. Having it pointed out when I first saw it would have been better since it’s not a given that I’d have seen it again later, being now into the Marvel Universe and Star Wars. Having someone give a short intro like the TCM hosts, including those photos of protesters, would be sufficient to start a viewer thinking without turning them off from seeing the movie at all.

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I think GwtW should be available to all who want to see it. And I have no problem with it being accompanied by some discussion putting it in historical context.

    My preference would be for such a discussion to follow the film’s screening (with a brief advisory in advance saying that a discussion would follow), so that those who haven’t seen it previously would have the opportunity to form their own first impression of the film, then be able to watch the discussion that follows, or not, as they see fit.

    • Pete T
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      I hadn’t read your comment before posting mine. Agreed!

  4. eric
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    What about other films?

    Well lol many movies made before about the 1980s are rampantly and blatantly sexist, so I’d say you have your work cut out for you.

    I think I’d stick to just the major ones; iconic films that the younger generation is likely to see.

    • Doug
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

      The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

      Even TV shows from the ’90s, such as “Friends,” “Frasier,” and Seinfeld” are now criticized because they do not reflect current attitudes. Why are all the major characters white? And straight? Is Niles’s secret obsession with Daphne a form of stalking? On “Friends,” Chandler’s father had a sex change, and was played, post-op, by Kathleen Turner. Not only was the subject played for laughs (transphobia!) but a transgender woman was played by a cisgendered woman (appropriating someone else’s lived experience!)

      Even films that were intended to attack racism, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Blazing Saddles,” or anything with Sidney Poitier, are now condemned for being “patronizing.”

      Attitudes are constantly changing, and today’s entertainment will seem dated in a generation or so. Trying to keep up with everything will be like trying to shovel water uphill. As Eric says, with a major film like GWTW, I do think a discussion afterward could be useful.

      FWIW, I saw GWTW for the first time as a teenager in the 1970s. While I could enjoy it as a movie, I could plainly see that it was glorifying the wrong side. The opening crawl laments that the plantation system is “Gone With the Wind.” I thought “Good riddance!” And do people who mourn the Old South realize that not every white Southerner owned a plantation?

      • Doug
        Posted June 16, 2020 at 5:57 am | Permalink

        The latest: protesters are demanding that Liverpool change the name of Penny Lane, as it was reportedly named after a slave-ship captain, James Penny. They have already vandalized signs, crossing out “Penny” and writing in “Racist.” I don’t know if they’ll demand that the Beatle song be banned.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 16, 2020 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        If the past in another country, the 90s’ sitcoms are just a daytrip to Ontario through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. 🙂

  5. Pete T
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I first read GWTW as an adult having never seen the film and having no prior warning of the content. I had heard of the title but didn’t have a clue as to where or when it was set let alone it’s subject matter. I am glad I was able to go to it fresh as it allowed me to make my own mind up without prejudice (sic). The introduction appended to my version of the novel was probably similar in content and tone to the introduction that has been produced for the film version but, as is my habit, I didn’t read it until after I’d finished the book itself, at which point it provided interesting and thought-provoking context rather than telling me what I was going to be required to think of it in advance. My suggestion for the film is therefore to provide appropriate (but please not sanctimonious) context as a postscript rather than an intro.

  6. Posted June 15, 2020 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I am against censorship in all forms. I personally think the film is unwatchable for many reasons; it’s too bad, because the cinematography is brilliant. I do like the book; I have to say it’s one of my favorite novels, because of its sheer readability. It’s a page-turner from the very first page. Of course, it’s showing a way of life & attitudes that have no value whatsoever in today’s world; I am not sure why this is a reason we should relegate this novel to the trash bin. Indeed, this novel shows a way of life that should promote discussion & perhaps rebuttal with other literary artifacts. Besides … it’s just a great story. Take the main characters out of the south & take away the war & you would still have a compelling love story.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Take the main characters out of the south & take away the war & you would still have a compelling love story.

      So long as one has a healthy appetite for melodrama — or, as our host put it, for schmaltz (er, make that for “chicken lard,” so as to avoid being a goyish cultural approrpiator). 🙂

  7. Janet
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    The fact that we see and acknowledge racism more clearly now seems to be support for Pinker’s theory that we are more in tune with the better angles of our nature.

    • Posted June 15, 2020 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      we are more in tune with the better angles of our nature.

      An acute observation, if I may say so.

      • darrelle
        Posted June 16, 2020 at 6:31 am | Permalink

        I hate to be obtuse but, I don’t get it.

  8. Pliny the in Between
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Haven’t watched it since high school. Gone with the Wind certainly perpetuates racial stereotypes but also ‘lost cause’ apologetics. The viewer is supposed to feel sadness that a way of life predicated on the ownership of human beings is swept away. The scene where the ‘noble’ Ashley goes to clear out the shanty town is the kind of thing the Klan took part in.

    A proper historical context introduction would probably have to be at least as long as the bloody 3 and a half hour movie to scratch the surface.

  9. Andrea Kenner
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I am glad you were willing to change your mind on this. It will be interesting to see how Ms. Stewart handles it, and I would like to see the historical context she provides before I pass judgment on it.

  10. Jon Gallant
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    A great many films from the bad old days certainly need to be “contextualized”. In all films of the 1930s-1960s, everybody was shown smoking cigarettes all the time, in accord with society’s systemic tobaccoism.
    In the Marx brothers’ films, the character of Chico Marx culturally appropriated (and made fun of) Italians. In many gangster films, Italians were also shown as criminals. Our
    Native Americans are shown in an unflattering light in many films about the West. (For that matter, Indians were always played by Anthony Caruso or Charles Bronson, who weren’t Native Americans at all.) Before “Alien” (1979), the female roles in virtually every film were limited to romantic interest. And don’t let us get started on “toxic masculinity” in Westerns, let alone in that jaw-dropping “Eastern” movie in which John Wayne was cast as Genghis Khan.

    In short, every movie (and perhaps every work of literature as well) will need to be accompanied by a little lecture, underlining how virtuous and enlightened we have all gotten to be since the work in question was created.

    • GBJames
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      “In many gangster films, Italians were also shown as criminals.”

      Is it this or is it that many gangster criminals were shown as being Italian Americans? The latter was a matter of fact. The former, of course, would be bogus stereotyping.

  11. Posted June 15, 2020 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Gone With the Wind is a time machine. It is representative of racial attitudes that most whites held at the time it was made (1939). Much worse was the viciously racist The Birth of a Nation (1915) which Woodrow Wilson had shown in the White House. We can sweep them under the rug if we want, but it is better to recognize our past mistakes.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation was a landmark work of film qua narrative art. It merits watching not for its content, but for reasons similar to those that apply to Ms. Riefenstahl’s Olympia and Triumph of the Will.

    • Posted June 15, 2020 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      Where is your evidence that in 1939 “most whites” held the racial attitudes portrayed in GWtW?

      • Posted June 15, 2020 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

        Pretty much any movie at that time portrayed black people the same way, or worse. Feets don’t fail me now. Also the popularity of the Amos and Andy show. Do you have reason to believe otherwise?

  12. Historian
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    The book and movie are illustrative of the fact that there can be no “true” history, but there can be “false” history. As is well known, these works came out at a time when racial stereotypes were commonly accepted, at least among white folks. But, these stereotypes paralleled what was the prevailing view at the time among most historians of the Civil War era. That is, they accepted the “Lost Cause” view of the war – that both sides were noble, fighting for what they believed was right, slavery wasn’t the real cause of the war, and that slavery wasn’t all that bad since it Christianized and civilized the ignorant and inferior African. Starting in the 1960s and continuing to the present day, this viewpoint has been rejected totally by virtually the entire historical profession. In other words, the view that prevailed for the first half of the twentieth century was rewritten or revised. Historians, based on the zeitgeist of the times and the emergence of new evidence, continually revise and rewrite history. This is why there is no “true” history. But, history can be “false” if assertions are made about the past of which there is little or no evidence to support them. Whether or not the historians of the early twentieth century wrote “false” history is something that can be debated.

    • Historian
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      By the way, I would classify the writings of the historians of the early twentieth century as “false” and certainly racist. This bunch of historians are sometimes referred to as the Dunning school, named after Columbia University professor, William Dunning, who in the early twentieth century wrote several influential books that incorporated the theses of the Lost Cause. It was a shameful period for Civil War historians and the nation.

    • Andrea Kenner
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Interesting observations… They reminded me of the many discussions we’ve had on this site about science. Both science and history allow us to get closer and closer to the truth, even if we’ll never know for sure if we’ve gotten all the way there.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted June 16, 2020 at 6:28 am | Permalink

      Historian, I have once read that the ‘Southern’ attitude to violence and chivalry are due to the fact(?) that the South was predominantly colonised by people from pastoral cultures,such as eg. the Scotts,(always high on ‘face’,”honour’, retribution and chivalry, and trigger-happy, since livestock could be easily stolen), as opposed to the North.
      Is there any factual basis for this notion?

      • Sarah
        Posted June 16, 2020 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        I think that was largely a myth to bolster a kind of fake “aristocracy” and noblesse oblige, and so on. W.J. Cash, The Mind of the South, is old, but an invaluable guide to this kind of thing.

  13. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I think it is import to know and say that Gone with the Wind, both book and movie are fiction. Also to note the woman who wrote the book is from the south and wrote it very much from a southern point of view. We could go so far as to have warning commentary before showing many early cartoons but the fact that they are cartoons should say something. Maybe a disclaimer before running the movie should say, this is a racist filled movie made in 1939. If you do not understand the meaning of fiction please look it up before you watch this. Or maybe just say, if you are getting your history from Hollywood you are in a lot of trouble.

  14. George
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I never read GWTW. I have never watched the entire movie. I started watching it twice and was offended. I do not like the south. I do not like its “chivalry.” I think “southern hospitality” is hypocritical. I am not comfortable is southern states.

    I have watched Triumph of the Will. Once in its entirety. Have watched parts of it at other times. It is hard for me to watch. My father was in the Polish army from 1939 on – not sure when his actual service ended. He was in the Polish Resettlement Corps after WWII. I have been to Auschwitz. I felt I had to watch the movie to help me understand how the Nazis could have happened.

    I grew up with racists and pretty much knew what they were.

  15. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    This seems to be an example of what Andrew Sullivan observed- we all live on campus now. Particularly with a professor’s piece to preface^* a work, akin to what is in compilations of literature.

    I attempt no judgment but only wish to point out Sullivan’s observation.

    ^*repeated use of “p” words is accidental, no humor intended.

  16. Charles Minus
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    One thing that gets overlooked in the discussions of the movie is that, in addition to the stereotyping and apologetics that poison the film, the closing scene contains a blatant recruiting pitch for the KKK. It’s been years since I saw the film but I recall the shock of hearing one of the characters extolling the formation of a group of “right minded” individuals who were organizing outside of town to carry on the [white supremacist] struggle. Can’t remember the exact words but I do remember the chill that went down my spine when I heard them.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

      I remember that too, but interpreted it as context and, possibly, warning.

    • Sarah
      Posted June 16, 2020 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      It seems to me that the vigilantism of this first occurrence of the KKK illustrates the extreme chaos of Reconstruction. There were thousands of freed slaves, but what were they supposed to do with their freedom? Where were they supposed to live? What reliable legal system was in force? One of the challenges of GWTW is that you have to see this KKK of 1870 as a kind of free-lance posse and forget what it became in succeeding incarnations.

  17. peepuk
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Paternalism is perfectly justifiable aimed at people who cannot think for themselves.

    That’s why HBO has to warn me so I do not accidentally become a racist by watching this movie.

    Makes completely sense.

  18. Historian
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I have no problem with Jacqueline Stewart critiquing the film from the point of view of a critic, but I think her analysis should be supplemented with that of an historian, who could discuss the reality of what life was for the slave and why during the 1930s this film was made. We must not assume that most or even a sizeable minority have any conception of what slavery was like in the antebellum South except that in some vague way it was “bad.”

  19. Simon Hayward
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    I watched Mudbound on Friday evening. The racism of rural Mississippi during and immediately post WW2 is not glossed over. Hard to watch in parts but worth it. I don’t think this movie will need an explanatory intro.

  20. Jon Gallant
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    GWTW is by no means the only old movie filled with the “lost cause” meme. It is striking how many old movies had Confederate officer heroes (always chivalrous, of course), or ex-Confederate officers in Westerns. And many films also referred to Reconstruction with those southern clichés about carpet-baggers, etc. etc.

    I was long puzzled about how, in the popular culture of the 20th century’s first half, the South seemed to have won the Civil War, culturally speaking. Was this all due to the Dunning school of historians? Or novelists and scriptwriters from the South? Of course, there might be an undertone of racism here, particularly since it always avoided the subject of the South’s peculiar institution.

    • GBJames
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      The Dunning School would have been the academic expression of a much broader phenomenon that included the work of the Daughters of the Confederacy in installing so many of the monuments currently in dispute and the rise to prominence of the KKK in the 1920’s across the south and middle west. My own grandparents were driven from Fargo with their kids. (In their case because my grandfather had a Jewish business partner and my grandmother was Catholic.)

      • GBJames
        Posted June 15, 2020 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        *driven from Fargo by the KKK

    • max blancke
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      What disturbs me, is that there will just never be an end to this. There are some causes that have a defined and limited goal, like votes for women. We all agree that women should be able to vote, pass the legislation, then move on.
      After the civil war, there was eventually reconciliation. Battlefield reunions had both sides socializing together. Soldiers and civilians who had supported the confederacy went on to fight for the US military.

      You can spend your whole life in the ex-confederate deep south and never hear a White person use the N-word. What little exists of the Klan is a handful of idiots in trailer parks living on disability. My mom has told me about what it was like in Alabama to have racist White neighbors, but those people are long gone.

      I know that it has always been fun for people in the North to stereotype southerners and blame them for most of the ills of the world.
      My Dad spent his college years trying to rid himself of his accent so that he would be taken seriously as a professional.
      But current efforts really do seem less like real concerns than as an effort to provoke and rekindle conflict.
      You would certainly think that there is a strong resurgence of racist southern secession identity going on, but there is not. Confederate memorials are memorials to the dead, and also a warning of where discord can lead.
      There is such a monument in our town, and it literally memorializes those who died in the civil war. It does not glorify slavery. We have memorials to those who died in other wars as well. The Vietnam war memorial does not serve to glorify French colonialism in SE Asia. Our willingness to defend those memorials and other historical sites has nothing whatever to do with the root causes of the conflicts they memorialize.

      Mostly, it is generally believed here that the outrage over all of this is just pretense. My wife (as liberal as the majority here) thinks we are reliving the early part of the sacking of Rome.
      I think she is not far off.

      But my primary point is that the goal here is the process itself. Unless they are stopped, there will always be another film to be banned, another statue to be toppled, and more people to be banished. There is not a reasonable compromise to be reached.
      More importantly, none of this is going to be resolved when the last southern White has been excommunicated, disarmed, and pacified. We are just first in line.

      • GBJames
        Posted June 15, 2020 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

        Glad to hear that racism isn’t a problem in America anymore, particularly in the south.

        • Max Blancke
          Posted June 15, 2020 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          As far as I know, racism is a challenge everywhere that humans coexist.
          But you would be hard pressed to find an example in human history where such a diverse population has lived under less oppression and more egalitarianism than here and now.

          When I lived in a Christian religious community, the leaders felt the need to promote the idea that large parts of the general population were literally in league with Satan, and that the survival of the christian community was at stake.
          Racism and oppression anywhere in the US on any sort of large scale is very hard to find. The demand is larger than the supply, so it must be manufactured. People must be designated as racist oppressors.

          • GBJames
            Posted June 15, 2020 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

            Your point is unclear. Which is it?

            A) Racism will always be there, so there’s no reason to get all excited.

            B) Racism will always exist so we have to keep fighting against it.

            Sounds like you think A is the situation. It’s a complete mystery why so many people have been in the streets for so long, I guess. Manufactured problem, eh?

            • max blancke
              Posted June 15, 2020 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

              No, I go with:

              C: Racism is always a potential problem, and we can usually do better. But banning films and smashing monuments are not a useful way to do that.
              Nor are we so irredeemably racist that revolution is the best response.

              It might even be that the goal of all the violence and aggression is to stir up racial tension.

          • Nicolaas Stempels
            Posted June 16, 2020 at 6:32 am | Permalink

            “you would be hard pressed to find an example in human history where such a diverse population has lived under less oppression and more egalitarianism than here and now.”
            I’m not hard pressed at all. Note, I live in South Africa, that may possibly make it easier to find.

            • Nicolaas Stempels
              Posted June 16, 2020 at 6:33 am | Permalink

              Oops, I read you wrong, I agree.

        • JP415
          Posted June 15, 2020 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

          Glad to hear that racism isn’t a problem in America anymore, particularly in the south.

          That’s a straw-man argument — a textbook example. Or maybe you’re just trolling. I get the impression that some of your remarks are designed to provoke people rather than generate a meaningful discussion.

          • GBJames
            Posted June 15, 2020 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

            What’s the meaningful conversation to be had when the argument is made that “none of this is going to be resolved when the last southern White has been excommunicated, disarmed, and pacified”?

            And I’m trolling?

      • eric
        Posted June 15, 2020 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        There is such a monument in our town, and it literally memorializes those who died in the civil war. It does not glorify slavery.

        Different people view memorials differently. it may not glorify slavery to you, but it might to someone else.

        I oppose vigilante destruction of these monuments; that’s akin to a heckler’s veto. But a democratically elected city board deciding to move or remove a monument due to constituent feedback, and following standard legal procedures…why should I see that as a negative, rather than an exercise in democracy?

        Unless they are stopped, there will always be another film to be banned

        Adding an explanatory introduction to GWTW is not banning it.

        It’s actually something like the opposite; the goal here is to make the movie more accessible to young people by explaining why it was written the way it was.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 16, 2020 at 6:05 am | Permalink

        What’s with all the confederate flags, Max?

        They just recently came down from atop southern state capitol buildings, finally got banned from NASCAR races just this week, and are a staple at Trump rallies. I’ll bet we still see some at his rally in Tulsa (the site of the nation’s worst racial massacre ever) this weekend (the rally that was originally scheduled for Juneteenth, until widespread complaints forced a one-day postponement).

        • max blancke
          Posted June 16, 2020 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

          “What’s with all the confederate flags, Max?”

          I really think this is a manufactured controversy. A racist oppressor needed to be identified, and southern Whites apparently were the easy choice. But it is pretty clear that the arguments being used are based on faulty or incomplete data, or are just disingenuous.
          If I were a foreign adversary, I would look at US history, and likely conclude that the best way to disrupt US power would be to reignite long buried differences.

          When the recent shooting in Atlanta happened, the person who started the fire was a White woman. I do not think for one moment that she did that for any reason other than to sow racial discord.

          The first big monument destruction was carried out by a Marxist-Leninist group that devotes a large part of their literature to their support of North Korea. You will have a hard time convincing me that their actions are about justice or improving the lives of anyone. I suppose they could fly their North Korean flags at a Nascar event without breaking the rules.

          I guess it was smart to turn the rebel flag into a symbol of oppression. Half the country was already disposed to think of southern Whites as lesser beings with no redeeming cultural value. So northern folks find they are going along with this, largely because of the stereotypes they hold, without realizing that they are setting a precedent for the banning of flags,the destruction of memorials, and the purging of the names of the disfavored. That precedent, once set, is already being used to justify actions that would until very recently been considered completely un-American.

          All of these are intended to be provocative actions. None of this will, or is intended to solve any problems or make the country a better place, or to promote harmony.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted June 16, 2020 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

            That doesn’t answer my question, Max.

            Why did confederate flags make such a grand comeback precisely when the Civil Rights movement began making headway in overturning 100 years of Jim Crow practices in the South — and, more crucially, why have southern whites clung to it as a symbol ever since (knowing what it stands for and what an affront it is to the descendants of slaves)?

            That, it seems to me, is the action that should be “considered completely un-American” (especially given that, in its original incarnation, the confederate flag was a symbol of rebellion against the United States precisely to preserve the South’s “peculiar institution” of chattel slavery.

            I think you’re grossly underestimating the role race has played in the politics of the American south, including since the racists disaffected from the Democratic Party (including the voters who supported George Wallace when he carried five deep south states in 1968) by passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were welcomed into the GOP by Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” by Ronald Reagan’s kicking off his 1980 campaign with a states-rights speech at the Neshoba County Fair (just miles from the site where civil-rights activists Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner had been lynched), by Poppy Bush’s Willie Horton ads, by the Tea Party, and by Donald Trump’s “birther” followers.

            • max blancke
              Posted June 17, 2020 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

              1965 was the centennial of the end of the war. 1915 marked the 50 year anniversary.
              There would have been renewed interest in the civil war at those times even if the civil rights movement had not happened.
              Also, Confederate veterans passed away every year of the first half of the 20th century. Many of them left allowances in their wills for memorials to their deceased comrades.

              The “rebel flag” was not the official flag of the CSA. That is a minor point, but not completely irrelevant.

              I don’t think large-scale display of the
              rebel flag started in 1965.

              My field was military history, so there is where I look for confirmation.

              When the USMC took Shuri Castle during the battle of Okinawa, the first flag they put up was the rebel flag, to the cheers of southern Marines, and good-natured grumbling from the northerners.

              The flag was carried by US troops in Cuba, in the trenches of France, the battlefields of SE Asia, and in Iraq.
              Groups of southerners flew it at Woodstock.

              When TV characters like the Beverly Hillbillies or Dukes of Hazzard displayed it, the message was that they were southerners.
              The same goes for Skynrd fans.

              The flag was flown as a basic symbol of southern heritage for many decades before the civil rights conflict came to a head, and for decades afterwards. Even now, virtually any southerner displaying it is doing so for that reason, and perhaps a little bit in response to being told that they are not allowed to do so.

              The recent conflict over the flag, the monuments, and all the rest was not precipitated by a rise in southern racism. I don’t think it can be shown that racism in the south is currently any worse than anywhere else.

              It is about scapegoating. There is currently a strong demand for racist incidents and individuals. There must be an enemy.

              I wrote about my experience in the Christian community, and how they needed outsiders to be actively in league with Satan, posing an immediate threat to the Christian community.
              The point I made badly was that those outside the church were not plotting against the Christians, they hardly gave them any thought at all. To people in the race business, everything is about race, and White folks, especially those from the south, are assumed to be working very hard to oppress everyone else. The truth is, most of us just want to live our lives in peace. People who claim to oppose fascism are going after Churchill, who was possibly the most anti-fascist person in history.

              The same people who are leading the fight against symbols of the south are also going after abolitionists, Jews, the military, the police, and pretty much everyone else.

              When someone who openly supports the North Korean government (where people are right now toiling away in slave labor camps) screams about how a century old statue is oppressing them, they are not being realistic or sincere. They are trying to justify the destruction and violence that they very much want to engage in. The claim that others opinions are “acts of violence” because they know that we do not wish to offend.

              Actual racists, when you can find them, don’t care what you call them. The very strong reaction from people like me comes from knowing perfectly well that we are not what we are accused of being, coupled with the knowledge that banning all the flags and smashing all the statues will neither end racism nor appease those demanding such sacrifices.

              Rant concluded. Thank you for reading.

              Max

    • revelator60
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      There were approximately 75 feature films about the South made between 1929 and 1941, and they nostalgically portrayed the antebellum South as a land of opulent plantations, which appealed to depression-era audiences. The supposedly “chivalrous” Old South was glamorized as an idyllic and wealthy agrarian society free from economic hardship or racial conflict. The plantation films always revolve around the plantation mansion, which increased from the modest example in “The Birth of a Nation” to its apotheosis in “Gone With the Wind.” The opulence and paternalist mansion owners were emphasized, rather than the coercion and terror inherent in slavery.

      The success of the Dunning school represents what I think was a larger phenomenon. After the Civil War and the end of the military occupation of the south, a sort of national reconciliation was achieved through the “Lost Cause” myth, but at the expense of throwing African Americans under the bus driven by Jim Crow. The South was welcomed back into the country and southerners were warmly portrayed as noble folk who valiantly lost the Civil War, heroic losers like the Trojans.

      An example: Buster Keaton’s masterpiece “The General” (1926) was based on a true story of Northerners performing a daring raid into the south to steal a train. But Keaton played the Southern engineer who retrieved his locomotive rather than a raider, because he thought the audience wouldn’t accept Southerners as villains.

      As for “Gone With the Wind”…Jacqueline Stewart is an excellent film scholar and should do a fine job. Still, considering how foreign the film now seems to modern America, a lot of its racist elements now look very obvious to modern audiences. And the sort of people who watch films from 1939 are not likely to be very young impressionable folks anyway. Nevertheless, further contextualization won’t hurt.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      Somewhat helpful for me:

      “Why There Are No Nazi Statues in Germany
      What the South can learn from postwar Europe.”

      ““Whatever else I may forget,” the ex-slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass said in 1894, “I shall never forget the difference between those who fought for liberty and those who fought for slavery.” Douglass (who is doing an amazing job and is being recognized more and more) deplored an emerging national consensus that the Civil War had been fought over vague philosophical disagreements about federalism and states’ rights, but not over the core issue of slavery. In this retelling, neither side was right or wrong, and both Confederate and Union soldiers were to be celebrated for their battlefield valor.

      Douglass was right to be concerned. Southerners may have lost the Civil War, but between the 1890s and 1920s they won the first great battle over its official memory. They fought that battle in popular literature, history books and college curricula, but also on hundreds of courthouse steps and city squares, where they erected monuments to Confederate veterans and martyrs. These statues reinforced the romance of reunion.

      Now, a century and a half after the Civil War, Americans are finally confronting the propriety of celebrating the lives of men who committed treason in the name of preserving slavery. That these statues even exist is unusual. When armies are defeated on their own soil—particularly when those armies fight to promote racist or genocidal policies—they usually don’t get to keep their symbols and material culture. As some commentators have noted, Germany in 1945 is a useful comparison. “Flags were torn down while defeated cities still burned, even as citizens crawling from the rubble were just realizing that the governments they represented had ended,” wrote a reporter for McClatchy. Most physical relics of the Nazi regime were banished from public view. In this sense, the example of Germany’s post-war de-Nazification may offer a way forward for the United States.

      Yet history tells a more complicated story.”

      [ https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/08/20/why-there-are-no-nazi-statues-in-germany-215510 ]

  21. Roo
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    At a personal level, I think the moral question of whether you should indulge in a beloved classic that contains antiquated and harmful elements is an interesting one. I very much support pulling the “baby from the bathwater” in cases where there is a philosophical or intellectual element – all thinkers are a product of their time and place and we would throw away all prior knowledge if we couldn’t separate a person form a person’s work. But in cases where there’s really no particular wisdom to be found, it’s just a beloved, perhaps even somewhat soap opera-esque story, I don’t know. I have this conundrum when it comes to the Disney movies of my childhood. Peter Pan… Song of the South… seemingly any movie featuring a Siamese cat… they have a lot of emotional significance to me as a part of my childhood, but man, viewing them in 2020 makes you realize that they were made in another era. I’m undecided on the proper attitude there. So long as you love a work in spite of its antiquated elements (if you love it because of them, that’s a different story,) I don’t know to what degree one should have to junk the past because it contains attitudes that we now see are wrong, but were accepted at the time. I’m undecided on the topic.

    • jezgrove
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      Doubtless they are digitally removing the smoking scenes from DIsney’s Pinocchio/i> right now (if they haven’t already).

      • jezgrove
        Posted June 15, 2020 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        Oops, didn’t turn off the italics properly.

  22. savage
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I watched a German movie from the Nazi period (a Heimatfilm) as a school lesson in Germany. There was not a lot of discussion, because pupils aged 16-18 were considered capable of thinking for themselves. What is wrong with such an enlightened attitude?

  23. Florent
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I hate contextualization of a movie *before* I even see it. It will inevitably set one’s mind to “something” during the viewing.

    I think a person will think and learn more after having viewed the movie and then only watch some info. That might actually stir up their mind into “oh gosh, I hadn’t even noticed”…

    But hey, trigger warnings !

  24. Blue
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    ¿ ” What about other films ? ”
    ¿ contextualized ?

    ¿ pornography ?

    ¿ in re the context of
    https://uncommongroundmedia.com/men-pornography-and-radical-feminism-the-struggle-for-intimacy-in-patriarchy ?

    Blue

  25. Jenny Haniver
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    I agree that such things must not be censored andsuppressed, though I’m not completely averse to contextualization I think it’s an overreaction to pull the film until HBO provides context, no matter who they choose to do the ‘splainin’.

    This post made me think about how didactic and controlled damned near everything has become these days from, children’s play to dying, even taking psychedelics. Seems like everybody lusts to be a teacher (and even business complexes are now called “campuses,” ugh, probably shopping malls are renamed campuses, too), teach what they deem important, and compel others to follow and swallow their curriculum at peril of being condemned and ostracized.

    This isn’t limited to the awokened or their right wing counterparts. It goes hand in hand with increasing censorship and regimentation across the board, turning everything into a moral problem, controlling the learning environment, and compelling people to be subjected to a certain sort of education, even those who can think for themselves and/or who have prior knowledge and experience with such things. I’d also say that this sort of thing can and does impede the development of independent critical thinking as well as fostering intolerance of differing perspectives and viewpoints.

    Surely there are those who’ll profit from being enlightened but must everyone be subjected to this lecturing (which can easily devolve into hectoring) if one wants to watch GWTW? That said, if I were to indulge in my own didactic fantasies re GWTW, I’d have people read certain books, such as Mary Chesnut’s diaries (both versions),Thaviola Glymph’s “Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation Of The Plantation Household,” while listening to the Sons of the Pioneers sing Stephen Foster plantation plaints. I’d also have them watch the series “Ask a Slave” http://www.askaslave.com/home.html, created by Azie Dungey, after first listening to her account of playing a slave for tourists on George and Martha Washington’s plantation https://www.thisamericanlife.org/623/we-are-in-the-future-2017/act-two-2, It’s hilarious and pathetic and disgusting at the same time, but I’m of the mind that a little humor helps a heck of a lot to understand.

    By the same token people should be able to read Mein Kampf, watch Triumph of the Will, as well as Jud Süß and other loathsome documents of days gone by that we now know are so offensive that we wish they never existed but must confront their existence be they about race or any other subject.

    I’ll admit, though, that I have limits, even though I struggle against them — snuff films? And what kind of snuff films? For instance, the killing of hostages by Isis have all but disappeared from the Internet but they need to exist to document that these things happened and people need to be able to see for themselves, if the have the stomach.

  26. Posted June 15, 2020 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    I hope it’s just careless writing and JC doesn’t ACTUALLY consider Huckleberry Finn a racist novel.

  27. Sarah
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    The novel GWTW is much more nuanced than the film, which inevitably condensed and simplified the novel. It is not about the Lost Cause, but the opposite: it’s about the necessity of resisting nostalgia and living in the world as it is. As it is set in the period from 1865-77 in Georgia and concerns the viewpoint of a young woman of the plantation-owning class, it is not surprising that slavery is accepted as normal and the abolition of it is one of the many upsets in post-war life. Margaret Mitchell went to enormous trouble to make her novel absolutely accurate in every way. The challenge to the reader is to try to understand what it felt like to be in Scarlett O’Hara’s shoes when her world was falling apart during the Civil War and Reconstruction. GWTW is historical fiction, not agitprop. The preamble to the film is overly romantic and subverts the real sense of the story.

    • Sarah
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      Oops, correction: the novel covers the 12 years from the beginning of the Civil War, not the end! So 1861-73.

    • Sarah
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

      Correction! The period of the novel was 12 years from the beginning of the War, of course. 1861-73.

  28. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    GWTW is possibly the biggest box office record holder (if memory serves from Box Office Mojo).

    GWTW has a G rating (again if memory serves).

    I think these factors are significant in HBO’s decision.

    That is, I don’t expect such a treatment for even successful films like Schindler’s List – or even – could it? – The Ten Commandments, or Ben-Hur?

  29. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    The movie is nearly a century old, and it’s very hard to understand the social setting – which of course goes double for the movie itself as it contains a story a further century back. I wouldn’t touch it at all, especially since it *is* painfully schmalzy. But it may be useful and/or social placebo, so I don’t min much right now.

    In related news, Fawlty Towers faces similar censure.

    “John Cleese has laid into the “cowardly and gutless” BBC after an episode of Fawlty Towers was temporarily removed from a BBC-owned streaming platform. A 1975 episode titled The Germans was taken off UKTV’s streaming service because it contains “racial slurs”. In it, the Major uses highly offensive language, and Cleese’s Basil Fawlty declares “don’t mention the war”. UKTV said it expected to reinstate the show with “extra guidance” in “the coming days”.”

    I believe the above is more of a description of what people remembers, there is supposedly racial slurs in there (but I haven’t seen it yet).

    [ https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-53020335 ]

    And here in Sweden name lists are disseminated that argue for removal of statues of biologists.

    “A name collection is underway to remove statues depicting Carl von Linné, who is believed to have contributed to Europe’s racist colonialism. According to Professor Gunnar Broberg, Carl von Linné did not use the concept of races but believed in different human species, which he ranked.”

    “Race biology as a concept did not exist in Linnaeus’ time, but his research had a great impact by classifying all life, although he himself did not do shell studies or the like.

    – He is based on classical antique temperamental theory, captured by statements that contemporary make of variations in man. He expresses the prejudices of his time, from the Bible onwards, where the blacks are cursed by the fall.

    But can you say that he was a racist?

    – Possibly. Some of his students who traveled extensively were clearly slave opponents, it was not Linnaeus. At the same time, he did not pay special attention to the issue of African people.”

    [ https://www.svt.se/kultur/carl-von-linne ]

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted June 15, 2020 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

      “I don’t min much right now” – I don’t mind much right now.

    • TJR
      Posted June 16, 2020 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      The Major certainly does use racial slurs, because he is old and ridiculous. This was recognised at the time, that was the whole point.

      Attitudes to words have changed dramatically since then, but I’m not sure that attitudes to attitudes have changed that much.

  30. Posted June 15, 2020 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    I watched Triumph and the Eternal Jew on youtube awhile ago. They don’t need a lot of explaining – their ideology is pretty obvious.

  31. lesliefish
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 4:51 am | Permalink

    The first time I saw GWTW I noticed how much unofficial power the “slaves” had. Mammy ran Tara like a drill-sergeant under indifferent officers. The supposedly-stupid maid very nearly managed to kill her “mistress” with clever lies and deliberate dawdling. The field-hands who ran off at the first opportunity or came back when it was profitable decided the failure or success of Tara every bit as much as the owners did. Nothing in that film disparaged the intelligence of the Black characters, and nothing but modern “Progressive” self-delusion would claim it does.

    • Posted June 16, 2020 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      And you don’t think it whitewashed slavery? I guess the blacks who picketed the movie in the 30s and 40s were deluded.

    • Sarah
      Posted June 16, 2020 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      Mammy is certainly the moral touchstone in the story and continually reminds Scarlett of the decency and propriety that she is transgressing. When we first meet Prissy we hear that she has a shrewd look about her; she is irresponsible but not stupid.
      I don’t think the field hands ever come back; the cotton has to be picked by whoever is available, including Scarlett and Melanie. It’s part of the theme of picking up the pieces after the debacle and managing in any way you can.

  32. chrism
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    Sixth paragraph – belief is misspelled, lacking the ‘f’.

  33. Posted June 16, 2020 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I think the contextualization can be done simply and effectively. Turner Classic Movies does it with every film they show. For many films it ends up being trivia, but often there’s explanation of why the screenwriter/director/producer/actor chose to make the film, how it was influenced by earlier works, or what its lasting impact was. It’s informative rather than preachy.

  34. Posted June 16, 2020 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Disclaimers and warnings sometimes occur at release time too (and I’m not meaning just “viewer discretion advised). Take, for example, the warning at the beginning of the _MacGyver_ episode “Black Rhino”, which explains that the adventure this week includes a very graphic portrayal of a (animatronic) de-horned rhino, and a disclaimer that this is a special effect for the point of the show.


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