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June 29, 2015


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Farran Nehme

I don't know if you've read the book, Glenn, but I have, more than once, and reading it can leave you in no doubt how much Selznick (and Sidney Howard and uncredited Ben Hecht) very deliberately cut out when it came to Mitchell's racial attitudes and politics.

Glenn Kenny

I should have made clear in the post that I'm no "Gone With The Wind" scholar and have not read the book. Leff's article, and Selznick's memos, do indeed shed a lot of light of how much racism got taken out of book for the movie. And I think the efforts of Selznick and Howard and Hecht were commendable. But after the three gentlemen performed their edits, what they were left with has elements that are still pretty tough to reckon with.

other mike

I watched Gone With The Wind for the first time in my life this weekend, mostly because of the conversation around the film kicked off by Lou Lumenick. Can I just say Clark Gable was fantastic, he cracked me up with his banter. Scarlet was an out and out nightmare. I damn near cried with joy when Gable told her he didnt give a damn. should have got an oscar for that alone. Olivia De Haviland was great as well. She was just so elegant and graceful with her personality.

As for the racial stuff I mean, just the written interludes alone let you know how retrograde the ideas about race in this film were. Its out and out racism, systemic etc. Happy slaves? give me a break. One scene they had some slaves rejoicing at the returning confederate soldiers. They were literally cheering their own enslavement.

Had mixed feelings on the black characters. The roles were very demeaning to me, but at the same time, I felt for them that this was literally what was on offer for them as actors. And who am i to nitpick their decision to partake at that very differnt time, with its own norms and compromises to consider?


Thanks for this post. I have a copy of GWTW my wife picked up that just sits on the shelf in part because I don't care to see the racism embedded in the story. I feel as if Ms. De Havilland has given me permission to view it now with a fresh set of eyes. I'll probably have the same reactions that other mike lists above, but it'll be interesting to see if De Havilland's take on the film has any resonance.

La Faustin

Claudia Pierpont Roth wrote a wonderful article on the book ("A Study in Scarlett, NEW YORKER, August 31, 1992) with some lines that chime well with De Havilland's thoughts:

“Vom Winde Verzeht” had sold over three hundred and sixty thousand copies by 1941, at which time its message was revealed to the Nazi government as so mercurial, its value as propaganda so unreliable, that it was suddenly banned. The Germans, after allowing the book to appear in occupied countries, had discovered that they were not the only ones to identify with the rebels in gray who would not accept defeat. Mitchell received reports that her book was serving as “a great morale builder” in those countries, and that, as she wrote to her publisher, “occupied nations identified themselves with the South during Reconstruction, identified the Ku Klux Klan with the forces of the Resistance, and were heartened by the thought that the South eventually got back its own state governments.”

La Faustin

That would be Claudia Roth Pierpont. (Jeez.)


The novel uses the N-word almost as often as a Quentin Tarantino screenplay. Selznick made very clear to Howard and Hecht that he didn't want that word in the movie.

Griffith also toned down the racism of his source material for BIRTH OF A NATION. It's still a racist movie, but the Thomas Dixon novels -- my God! You can still find century-old copies of "The Clansman" and "The Leopard's Spots" in used book stores. Almost every page seethes with hatred of black people and lectures on their inferiority. It's truly appalling stuff.

Angela D.

So you don't like Scarlett...
It humors me how very very much Gable's character of Rhett is given a pass. Rhett Butler played both sides against the middle, the middle being a huge pot of cash in regards to the war or the women in his life. Rhett is not the "moral guy" and Scarlett is not the witch. Scarlett is 16 at the start of the film. If anybody takes 5 minutes in any given high school, you will find a version of Scarlett walking down the hall in just about every girl. I'm shocked by people who "eww" to Scarlett but will cheer on most of what is put out by Hollywood today.

Misunderstanding race in Hollywood in the 1930s...
Given that even Hollywood was segregated (the Ambassador Hotel where the Academy Awards were held in 1940 was a whites only hotel and Selznick made a special request for Hattie to attend the ceremony) and given that Selznick was film producer, living in his own world of all white, all male studio executives, no he probably didn't "get" the black experience as you seem to expect him to. He probably didn't get the "contracted actor" experience that Olivia sued Warner Brothers over. Both Kay Brown and George Cukor were sent to Atlanta to represent him in all the various negotiations because he didn't get "The South" either. That being said, he wasn't unfamiliar with persecution as his family had fled Russia and being Jewish he was quite aware of what was going on. Today, Selznick is honored by the Producers Guild of America through their Annual David O. Selznick Award.

For Hattie McDaniel, her experience of being excluded because of race in California extended all the way to her grave. She wanted to be buried in Hollywood Forever cemetery, but could not because of her race. It was only some time after her passing that they erected a marker at Hollywood Forever in honor of Hattie. Hattie was involved in a lawsuit over housing practices that kept her from buying the home and property she wanted.

Just this week people have written that de Havilland was angry that she lost to a woman of color. At 23, and on her first nomination in the biggest film role of her career after playing the perpetual ingenue at Warners, both before and after GWTW, she was understandably upset for having lost the Oscar, period. Gable was so upset on his loss that he told Carole Lombard it would never happen again. You can't find photos of Gable on Oscar night 1940, he's not in the historical reels of film from that night. I don't think he actually went and most people who write and study Gable don't think he made it to or made it through the ceremony because he lost. His feelings were really no different than de Havilland's on that night. Selznick even opined about Gable losing, even after he received the Irving Thalberg Award. Since the LA times printed the winners in advance of the ceremony beginning, the attendees knew ahead of time who won.

Gone With the Wind means different things to different people...
What de Havilland said to you was correct, it is a universal film with universal themes of survival. It is not a documentary on slavery in the South, but it does originate with truths of war, starvation, destruction, life, and death, especially as they face women. I wrote a blog in response to Lou's proposal of essentially pulling all screenings and pulling GWTW out of public market. In that blog, I pulled together just a few references of GWTW being seen, read, or used around the world:

"Gone With the Wind" means many things to many people in the United States and all around the world. One only needs to look at the recent and wildly popular "Gone With the Wind" stage production in Seoul, South Korea to see its popularity is shared globally. In 2013, the British flocked to theaters to see "Gone With the Wind" in a huge national re-release event that coincided with the 100th birthday of Vivien Leigh. The re-release was so popular that the number of theaters participating was expanded and the run was extended to over 4 months. In a rare 2014 screening event in Ireland, "Gone With the Wind" was shown to audiences in its entirety, after being censored and cut in 13 places by the censorship board upon its original release. North Koreans have even found a connection to "Gone With the Wind" as recently as 2012 and in 2015 "Gone With the Wind" was a selection for the Shanghai film festival...

Just last night, I found it will be screened in Delhi, India as part of the Jagran Film Festival on July 1-5.

Does Gone With the Wind have flaws? Yes,. But I don't think it has to be ripped apart and analyzed every time it comes up. We don't have the benefit of seeing the destruction that Margaret Mitchell saw as a young girl from the war, that was still visible near her. We expect Mitchell to tell everyone's story and be all things to all people then and now. It's ridiculous. Somehow along the way, we've come to expect sanitized views of everything to fall in line in book and film with approved expectations in the 21st century. I am shocked that academic "twitter parties" are now popular with high school and college students who are literally watching GWTW to fault every scene for racism and lack of "historical accuracy" and tweet their answers back to their teacher and/or professor. Nothing says there's only one approved perspective on this film like telling the kids to tweet their responses on GWTW. "Look Racism" and "eww that's not historically accurate" works well for twitter. I don't think every time we discuss Gone With the Wind has to be in some context as described by a third party to make sure it is viewed in the "right" way and just because I view GWTW in the light as described by De Havilland doesn't mean I don't understand other points of view in art, film, literature and history.

You can visit my blog in response to the NY post article at http://tinyurl.com/pak433t
You can visit my websites at http://www.gwtwshowtimes.com and http://www.oliviadehavillandonline.com


I'm all for removing Confederate flags from state capitols and other government buildings. But what Lou L. is calling for is censorship of a work of art. All for the best reasons, of course, as all censors see their actions.

Where will this end? Will we eventually ban or destroy all copies of GWTW, BIRTH OF A NATION and SONG OF THE SOUTH because many people are offended by their depictions of African Americans and the Old South? (Disney has done a good job of burying SONG in their vaults.)

What about those old cartoons and musicals with blackface numbers, and the '30s comedies with "darky" humor? Should we boycott TCM for showing them?

How about Clint Eastwood's portrayal of a heroic Confederate "raider" in THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES? Isn't that offensive to all right-thinking people?

Should we digitally erase the rebel flag license plate from Burt Reynolds' car in SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT? (And doesn't the car's horn play the first notes of "Dixie"?)

And what about Ron Howard's cap in EAT MY DUST? Why haven't Howard and producer Roger Corman apologized for this affront?


When you start suppressing things, it can be hard to stop. And liberals can enjoy suppression (censorship) as much as any right-wingers. Just look at Dr. Fredric Wertham, the liberal psychiatrist with a free clinic in Harlem, who led the anti-comic book crusade of the '50s.

Jaime Weinman

Yes, racism and nostalgia for slavery is built into Gone With the Wind. Pretty much the first scene is set up to show us that the slaves are happy and have their own hierarchy. Also, the hero rapes the heroine.

Admitting that, though is only the start of figuring out what that movie means to people. For one thing, as De Havilland says, it's about finding meaning in being on the losing side of a brutal war where your way of life is wiped out. The fact that the South brought it on themselves - as the movie admits - doesn't change the fact that that's meaningful. It's like The Third Man or other stories about Axis countries after World War II. Or for that matter, a movie like Das Boot. The cause they fought for can be horrible, but the story can still have universal appeal.

The pre-war South portrayed in Gone With the Wind had also, by then, become America's own chivalric myth - not just the South's, but all of America's. America's founding myths don't go back very far, and the Pilgrims are, let's face it, boring as hell to look at in a movie. So the South became America's version of Arthurian times, a time when chivalry ruled and people were glamorous. In both cases, as Dennis the Peasant would point out, the myth obscures the violence inherent in the system. But everyone has their chivalric mythology, and the fact that the South consciously modeled itself on Sir Walter Scott's novels of chivalry (as Mark Twain disgustedly pointed out) made it a natural for myth-making. People around the world walked out of Gone With the Wind with a sense that their world - the capitalistic world that Scarlett O'Hara was so good at exploiting - is soulless and hard and nasty. That's myth-making for you.

But to just wag our finger at the people who watch the movie, as Lumenick does, is to fall into the critic's fallacy of worrying that other people are getting the wrong message from a picture. What does the movie make Lumenick think about the way we romanticize the past? The fact that the movie's typically 1939 suspicion of capitalism is linked to a nostalgia for a racist, oppressive past - how does that jumble of ideas strike us? This is a lot more complicated than just shuddering at the possibility that the bad people out there are learning to be badder because of some movie.


I had a history teacher in high school (AP history, no less!) who openly acknowledged being racist (before several black students as well, one of whom wore white gloves in another vestigal remnant of the Old South), because "that's the way I was raised and I can't change that now." This was just outside of Atlanta, in the latter eighties. She showed GWTW uncritically in our history class, before eventually assigning us our big project for the quarter, a "histiography" (which to her apparently meant "paper written on historical episode") analyzing the causes of the Civil War, which she warned us could NOT include slavery, bc that was not a cause.

I used to love GWTW when I was a kid (first saw it in the glorious Fox downtown), and I'm afraid I loved to run around saying that I didn't know nothing about birthing no babies, to the delight of all the adults, in my best Hattie voice. I hadn't seen it since my youthful naivete, and there was never discussion of it critically in Atlanta, but based on my memories of it alone I knew it was toxic garbage when she announced she would be showing it in class, and was appalled. The showing confirmed this. Speaking out would have been pointless. I grew up with "The South Will Rise Again" trucker hats being sold in convenience stores. Some time after the AP History showing, Ted Turner started showing GWTW daily at his outfit downtown. Like so much else in the south then, it was all just a set of atmosphere and attitudes to be endured.

The quick turnaround on the flag has shocked me (I wrote a no-brainer editorial for the HS paper advocating for its removal back then), even if I think it has resulted in overreach. Banning items from EBay is wrong. And I don't think you even need a disclaimer in front of GWTW to show it in normal theaters...time and societal maturity (go ahead and laugh) is providing fit context enough.


BTW, the town outside of Atlanta I am from is Stone Mountain. I only found out a year or two ago that the "shoutout" we get at the end of King's Dream speech is not mad props to a place he liked but a reference to Stone Mountain itself as the rebirth place of the KKK after a period of dormancy. Somehow, when I was growing up, that never came up, though I knew they were around and held rallies from time to time.


Oh my goodness, Selznick was Jewish! Nobody will ever convince me he was a racist! I know NO racists who are Jewish, in fact as a people I find them to be quite the opposite!


Great post, Jaime Weinman.

Thinking about all this GWTW brouhaha anew, makes me think the answer is obvious. Rather than relegating the film to museums and urging the copyright holders to back off of their marketing, it should be screened and discussed even MORE than usual. The film made history, and it IS history. History is full of uncomfortable truths, and we all know what Santayana said about forgetting our history. GWTW's popularity and influence say something about our country that should be studied and explored, not swept under the rug.

The big catch, I guess, is that in our current climate of trigger warnings and "problematic" opinions, it might not be possible to have constructive, meaningful debate about the issues GWTW raises without resulting in fisticuffs and lawsuits. So, I dunno, never mind.

Joel Bocko

I missed Lemenick's op-ed but I've been wondering when this would come up. Shortly after the whole Confederate flag debate re-ignited I searched for "Confederate flag" + "Gone with the Wind" or "Gone with the Wind" + "racist" on Twitter and was surprised to find very few results - maybe only 1 in the aftermath of Roof's shooting. Most were in relation to a white artist who tweeted passages of the book as an art project. Rather strangely, she was condemned for racism/appropriation and dissociated from the institue she worked with while the book (and film) itself continues to be unproblematically celebrated which speaks to the schizoid phenomenon you are noting.

The GWTW cultural phenomenon, which persists very strongly to this day, is kind of odd duck given how anachronistic its values are, or rather how explicitly rejected they are (Casablanca's values are a bit anachronistic too, but less because people have turned on them and more because people have moved onto other things for better or - probably - worse). You DON'T hear its racism discussed all that much. Actually I've noticed that cinephilia doesn't seem to have as much of a call-out culture as TV, video games, comics etc, or even contemporary film-viewing (forgive me, I think that's a good thing, and it's due at least in part to classic film being - obviously - an older medium and having already experienced a lot of digging into darker past). But that's another story.

You bring up Birth of a Nation as a notable contrast. I remember actually discussing that on this blog once, pointing out that the films make an interesting pair. Clearly, Birth is the most despicably racist of the films but in a completely inadvertent way, it's also the more honorable. Its prejudice is so transparent that watching the film forces the viewer to confront just how ugly America's history - and movie history - can be. The films doubles not only as a recruitment poster for the KKK but Hollywood's first mega-blockbuster as well as a brilliantly-realized aesthetic breakthrough, and not just for the obvious larger-than-life aspects but the subtle handling of composition, performance, etc. But there is no way to watch the second half of that film and not be viscerally appalled.

Gone with the Wind, on the other hand, sugarcoats its racism, making it more palatable and in that sense it is much more pernicious. In a million cutesy, winking, sneaky ways (haven't read the Atlantic article yet but I'm sure it will point out quite a few of these) it gets us cozy with its premise - Prissy may go too far for modern audiences, and the blatant Confederate flag-waving scenes may make us wince, but by and large the shuffling, shucking slaves get their laughter, the breathtaking shots of Tara trigger longing for a romanticized way of life "gone with the wind," and modern viewers will be inclined to celebrate Scarlett as a feminist hero rather than a racist elitist. At least that was my experience watching the film with a (Northern) audience in 2009 - although one member did leaving muttering, "I had the feeling the good guys were offscreen for the whole movie..."

Now that said, I do think Gone with the Wind is a great movie; partly because a movie can be great even if its values are abhorrent, partly because not all of GWTW's values are abhorrent. As someone somewhere recently pointed out (can't remember the context, but it was admittedly more about the book) the story is actually pretty weary/skeptical of the rosy-eyed Confederate cause - more from a realist basis than a humanist one, but that's something. Hattie McDaniel deservedly won the Oscar bringing humanity and depth to a stereotypical part, and the film's heroes aren't quite heroes at all, both Rhett and Scarlett are scoundrels and they more or less know it. If Birth of a Nation accidentally achieves a subversive quality due to its nakedness, Gone with the Wind is the more intentionally mature film and it definitely mixes its dollops of gauzy Confederate romanticism with a more clear-eyed view of how vain and delusional the whole enterprise is (even if it does not stretch this understanding to embrace slavery, the central tenet of that enterprise).

To the question of whether GwtW should be shown and/or celebrated vs. shunned and condemned, I'd like to think we can both celebrate and condemn without shunning - indeed, showing is the only real way to spur such conversations. Agreed about Disney's Song of the South. It's a weirdly evasive movie (although it's worth pointing out that it seems to be set in post-slavery rather than antebellum times, not that Uncle Remus-the-sharecropper would be able to leave the plantation much easier than Uncle Remus-the-slave). But I'm not sure it can be flat-out called "racist" (the way Gone with the Wind certainly can), although maybe I'm wrong about that. Also re: Disney on race, sad to say, but the cliched (and horribly named) but likable, wise, and helpful crows in Dumbo are one of the more positive depictions I've seen of black culture in prewar Hollywood. Just compare that to say, the cringeworthy whiteface gag in the same year's Sullivan's Travels to see what I mean.

On another note entirely, I'm just happy to see Olivia de Havilland hasn't passed away, which was what I initially expected when clicking on this link. She will 100 in a year and one day!


I like Roger Ebert's comment on BIRTH OF A NATION, in his "Great Movies" essay: the movie shows how, a century ago, it was possible to be racist without even knowing you were racist. Griffith apparently thought of himself as a progressive. And maybe on some issues, he was.

But his racial attitudes were instilled at a very young age. They were so second-nature he seems not to have been aware there was anything wrong with those attitudes.

Still, I don't want BIRTH banned or removed from circulation. If we start censoring movies from the past that don't jibe with current attitudes about race, gender and/or sexual orientation, there won't be much from the past we can watch.


"I mean, quite a few of the people responsible for adapting Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer-Prize-winning (yes it did!) novel to the screen were not un-progressive in their politics, at least for their time... George Cukor was a gay man."

Doesn't necessarily make Cukor "not un-progressive in [his] politics, at least for [his] time." Although I suspect you're right.


We're too depressed over the Dissolve folding to post any comments now.

Joseph Angier

Glenn, I think Birth of a Nation gets a comparative pass for one simple reason: Not that many people have seen it, especially compared to a behemoth like GWTW. Also, GWTW was based on a book that was a mammoth bestseller that's still in print and still embraced. You'd be hard pressed to find any Dixon works on your library/bookstore/Amazon shelves.


"You'd be hard pressed to find any Dixon works on your library/bookstore/Amazon shelves."

Actually, you can find many editions of Dixon's books at Amazon.


To quote an Amazon reviewer, "The Clansman" is: "A wonderful work of history! It's history at it's truest point. A very educational read."


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