“Gone With the Wind,” which was not eligible for an Academy Award this year since it was released in 1939, is an epic film based on a best-selling novel about how a Southern white woman experienced the Civil War and Reconstruction.
It was written in an era steeped in the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy,” which framed the slavery-loving South’s secession and defeat as heroic and even patriotic.
As has happened fairly regularly during the Trump administration, historians on Twitter expressed their displeasure.
Kevin M. Levin, who specializes in Civil War memory and recently published a book called “Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth,” summed it up like this:
Since its release, “Gone With the Wind” has been criticized for its depiction of enslaved African Americans as simple, scatterbrained and happy in slavery.
When the movie was in early production, African American film critic Earl J. Morris, who wrote for the black Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, urged readers to write to the Motion Picture Producers Association and demand that the “n-word” be removed from the script. (The word is used frequently throughout the novel.)
Morris also reported that many black actors refused to take the demeaning roles, but added that “we cannot criticize” the black actors who accepted them “too severely for their attempt at racial suicide, for they are economic slaves.”
When the movie was released, however, the NAACP criticized actress Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy, as an “Uncle Tom.”
McDaniel reportedly responded by saying she would “rather make seven hundred dollars a week playing a maid than seven dollars being one.” Months later, she became the first African American to win an Oscar, which far-right conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec highlighted in defense of Trump.
McDaniel and the other black actors in the movie were unable to attend the blockbuster film’s premiere in Atlanta because the theater was segregated. At the Oscars ceremony in a Los Angeles hotel, “Gone With the Wind” producer David O. Selznick had to “call in a special favor” so that McDaniel would be allowed to attend, according to the Hollywood Reporter. She was seated at a table in the back, separate from the rest of the cast and crew.
The movie became the highest-grossing film in history at the time it was released and set a record for most Oscar wins. It was also selected for preservation in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry.
But criticism of the movie has only increased over time, though there is at least one scene that historians may still view as historically accurate: when Scarlett O’Hara, played by Vivien Leigh, slaps an enslaved woman named Prissy, played by Butterfly McQueen.
White women’s role in slavery has taken center stage recently with the release of historian Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers’s book “They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South.”
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