This is what was written by a noted Hollywood writer at the time of the release of “Gone With the Wind,” “There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South... Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave... Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind...” This is only one reason why the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee that recently banned a showing of the film, “Gone With the Wind”, as “insensitive” and “racist” got it right. Despite the fawning, glamorization, and near eight-decade hype of the film as the penultimate American film classic, the brutal fact is the movie is one of the most racist movies of all time.
It did more than even “Birth of a Nation” to burrow deep in the public psyche the most hideous, gross, and enduring lies and stereotypes about African-Americans while blatantly whitewashing the true horror of slavery. In fact, Mitchell’s quote about the old phony and totally offensive romanticized view of the plantation South, is itself a gross racial whitewash. There’s the by now well-known parade of ever faithful, well-behaved and well-scrubbed “darkies,” and ’mammies,” conniving and scheming dastardly Yankees, and heroic, gentlemanly white plantation masters in the film. There is not the faintest hint of the horror of the whip, lash, backbreaking toil, and personal degradation and dehumanization of African-Americans who provided the wealth and material comfort for the film’s two main characters, Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. The South has been neatly packaged just as Mitchell wanted the world to believe as a gentile, and benign, almost mythical world of white heroes and heroines.
It’s tempting to dismiss the fuss over the film and the criticism about it decades later as much ado about nothing. It’s just a film from a by gone past, some say that has no relevance to the present. That’s a dangerous delusion, art, culture, and especially film is endearing and enduring in the public mind and imagination. If a film presents lying stereotypes about African-Americans as historic fact, then they are believed and even further deepen the negative typecast of blacks. So, a Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Terence Crutcher, or Trayvon Martin, or any other black wantonly gunned down by a police officer is routinely savaged by many in the media and the public, and the officers that kill them will just as routinely walk free.
If anything, an acclaimed classic such as “Gone With the Wind” is even more dangerous than hoisting the Confederate flag or a Confederate monument. A flag and a monument can come down and be tucked away in a museum or repository away from public view. Not so with a film, and especially if that film is anointed The American classic. So, yes, the Memphis theater got it right by giving the boot to GWTH. And, it’s way past time for others to do the same.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. His new book, The Trump Challenge to Black America (Middle Passage Press) was released in August. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.