According to a person with knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity, the material with the new figure will be shot and edited in the next few days, with an eye toward restoring “Gone With the Wind” to the streaming service as quickly as possible.
The person did not identify the figure but said they would be a prominent authority on the subject of slavery and African American history. The expert will discuss the movie’s accuracy, its portrayals, and the issues and problems those depictions create.
A WarnerMedia spokesperson did not comment for this piece. On Tuesday, the company released a statement that read in part, “Gone With the Wind is a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society. These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible.”
Executives at the service began discussing the issue a week ago, but the move was hastened by an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on Monday from the filmmaker John Ridley.
“Please consider removing ‘Gone With the Wind’ from your rotation of films,” he wrote, appealing to executives at HBO Max. “It is a film that glorifies the antebellum south. 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.” By Monday night, the film had disappeared from the service.
Criticism came quickly Tuesday, especially from conservative figures, and rippled through political and media circles Wednesday.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted Wednesday afternoon, “Here’s a radical idea: Don’t censor Gone With The Wind. Don’t censor Blazing Saddles. Don’t censor Quentin Tarantino. Don’t censor ANYTHING,” citing a Rolling Stone article that noted the anti-racist message of Mel Brooks’s “Blazing Saddles.”
Former Fox News and NBC News journalist Megyn Kelly also responded to the HBO Max news, tweeting: “Are we going to pull all of the movies in which women are treated as sex objects too? Guess how many films we’ll have left? Where does this end??” She also sarcastically suggested that “every episode of Friends needs to go right now. If not, you hate women (& LGBTQ ppl, who also don’t fare well on Friends).”
It was not just conservatives who objected, however. Mark Harris, a noted liberal author and columnist, called the HBO Max move “worse than an empty gesture; it’s an empty gesture that is costuming itself as real action. Also, rewriting America’s deeply flawed cultural history by pretending the parts that shame us can just be deleted is not a path forward.”
Ridley asked that the movie be returned to HBO Max “after a respectful amount of time has passed,” along with “other films that give a more broad-based and complete picture of what slavery and the Confederacy truly were.” He also suggested pairing it with “conversations about narratives and why it’s important to have many voices sharing stories from different perspectives.”
The movie would not get any special promotional treatment on the service’s home page, the person said, but simply be available amid a long list of classic titles. HBO Max already has a home page section called “Celebrating Black Voices” that featured titles such as the HBO film “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and the Spike Lee movie “BlacKkKlansman.” It created the section in the wake of the protests.
Directed by Victor Fleming from Margaret Mitchell’s novel, “Gone With the Wind” has long been hailed as a classic. The Civil War-era romantic drama won eight competitive Oscars, became a massive blockbuster and is considered one of the most landmark films in Hollywood history.
But in recent years, many critics have questioned the movie’s portrayal of slavery and said the movie justifies a culture of oppression. “It is a film that, as part of the narrative of the ‘Lost Cause,’ romanticizes the Confederacy in a way that continues to give legitimacy to the notion that the secessionist movement was something more, or better, or more noble than what it was — a bloody insurrection to maintain the ‘right’ to own, sell and buy human beings,” wrote Ridley, who won an Oscar for his screenplay of “12 Years a Slave.”
The Post’s Ann Hornaday has written that the movie does not “allow suffering to speak,” saying that “its portrayal of enslaved plantation workers as either happy and loyal aides-de-camp, happy and nurturing mother figures or happy and infantilized fools is deeply offensive and inaccurate.” On Wednesday, she applauded HBO Max’s move.
The “Gone With the Wind” controversy is the latest flash point over how companies should approach cancel culture — the social-media-driven idea that works of entertainment and their creators, from both modern and earlier eras, should be held closely to account for their messages and often even negated entirely.
Adding a wrinkle to the debate is the fact that condemnations can paradoxically drive people to the work. Whether out of curiosity or political defiance, people flocked to “Gone With the Wind” after the controversy arose; as of late Wednesday night, “Gone With the Wind” had reached No. 2 on the iTunes sales chart.
The Black Lives Matter protests have prompted a reckoning elsewhere in Hollywood. On Tuesday, ViacomCBS canceled the upcoming 33rd season of “Cops” and pulled reruns from the network amid criticism that the show glorifies police and negatively depicts people of color. An executive producer of “Monk” said the people who work on cop shows should be more mindful of overly warm police portrayals. Late Wednesday, executives at A&E, which broadcasts the docuseries “Live PD,” canceled the series.
The news also points to the emerging issue facing streaming services, which retail themselves as venues with endless titles but in fact often face tough decisions on the limits of that depth. Robert Greenblatt, the WarnerMedia entertainment chief who oversees HBO Max, told The Post before the controversy that it was a question the service was generally grappling with.
“In our film library — between Warner Bros and MGM and Criterion — we have 40,000 hours. We just couldn’t put that all on the service,” he said. “We want to make the devoted movie fan feel like there’s a lot here for them. But we don’t want to put everything on there all at once.”
The choices are made more difficult when one of those classic titles is reexamined through a modern lens. Other streaming services have faced similar reckonings: Disney Plus decided to retain some potentially problematic older movies, such as “Dumbo,” with disclaimers but opted not to include its plantation-era movie “Song of the South,” widely regarded as offensive.