Superman 1.87: The Other Movie About Black People

I want to check back in about the history of blockbuster movies, which I’ve been doing sporadically so I can figure out how they work. So far, I’ve talked about the first blockbuster, the 1912 Italian epic Quo Vadis, which set the bar for the kind of large-scale spectacle that audiences could expect from the high-prestige movies. We’ve also discussed the first American blockbuster, the 1915 Ku Klux Klan recruitment film The Birth of a Nation, which pioneered most of the foundational principles of narrative filmmaking, and also made the case for the continued oppression and second-class status of Black people in the United States.

And today, we’re going to look at Gone With the Wind, the flabbergastingly successful 1939 four-hour film epic about the death of the Old South, and… well, the birth of a nation, I suppose.

First, let’s do the numbers.

Gone With the Wind was based on a best-selling 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell, which sold a million copies in its first six months. The film cost four million dollars to produce, making it the most expensive movie ever made up to that point.

It was also the highest-grossing film since The Birth of a Nation, earning $32 million on first release and $67 million with a 1963 re-release. The Sound of Music finally topped it in 1966, but then Gone With the Wind got the top spot again with a 1971 re-release that made $116 million. The movie’s stranglehold on the highest-grossing chart finally ended in 1972 with The Godfather, followed by Jaws, Star Wars and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

But adjusted for inflation, Gone With the Wind is still the highest-grossing film of all time, which is something of a cultural mystery. I mean, it doesn’t have a single superhero, alien or killer shark in it, and you don’t have to watch six other films in order to understand it, so how could it be popular? It doesn’t make sense.

Gone With the Wind is the story of the most self-centered woman in the world, who gradually becomes more self-centered over time, while continuing to own slaves after slavery is abolished. It begins with an opening crawl that sets the tone for what we’re about to witness:

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…

So that is the operating worldview going into this movie, that the world of Master and of Slave is one that should be remembered fondly. From the start, this film is openly and actively pro-slavery.

It’s a long movie, but I’ll give you a quick synopsis, if you need it. The main character is Scarlett O’Hara, the pampered and willful daughter of a rich plantation owner in Georgia. In the first part of the movie, which establishes the grand and graceful lifestyle of the slaveowners, she has a passionate attachment for Ashley Wilkes, a dull simp who goes and marries somebody else. To score off Ashley, Scarlett marries someone that she doesn’t love, and then the Civil War starts, which is a great inconvenience to everyone.

Scarlett’s husband dies in the war almost immediately, and she’s shipped off to the family’s home in Atlanta, where she’s courted by the rich, rascally Rhett Butler, who’s gained fame as a blockade runner.

The gallant soldiers of the South start losing the war in great heaps, and Scarlett finds her life in Atlanta increasingly impinged upon. Rhett helps her get out of Atlanta before the dreadful Yankees come and burn it to the ground, and she makes her way back to Tara, her family plantation, which isn’t quite burned to the ground but it’s not feeling very well.

With the help of some relatives, neighbors and a set of unbelievably loyal remaining slaves, Scarlett manages to eke out a living at Tara, no thanks to the mean old Union soldiers and free Blacks who straggle by occasionally to menace women and get shot.

During Reconstruction, the United States of America is terribly mean to the formerly all-powerful white Southern overlords, and Scarlett struggles to run Tara with a drastically reduced number of whip-motivated personnel. To get the money to keep things in operation, Scarlett marries Frank, another rich guy that she doesn’t love.

One day while she’s out driving somewhere, Scarlett gets attacked and almost-raped by two guys — one white, and one Black. Outraged, Frank and Ashley rile up the boys to go and lynch the perpetrators.

Things go sideways during the lynching and Frank gets killed, which means that Scarlett is finally free to marry Rhett, and then there’s a lot more stuff that we don’t need to concern ourselves with. End of synopsis.

The movie’s greatest asset is that it has Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, the only sensible man in the South, who shows up magically at random intervals in order to explain to everybody why they’re assholes.

Rhett is a trickster character, like Lex Luthor in the Superman film, who violates all of the social and cultural norms, and has a wonderful time doing it. He stands just on the outside of any society that he’s in, seeing through other people’s pretensions and making sarcastic remarks. He drinks and gambles and spends time in brothels, and really should be considered a scandal and a pariah, but he has a lot of money, and Ashley likes him. During the war, Rhett earns respect as a smuggler and blockade runner for the South. He’s basically the Han Solo of 1939.

Most importantly, Rhett gets all the funny lines, and when Scarlett’s behavior gets wearisome, he comes along to shake her up, and send her down a more interesting path.

Everything in the film is very heightened and dramatic, with lots of short, fast-moving scenes of passionate people urgently discussing their feelings about everything: love, war, land, the dirty Yankees, and whether they’ll ever be hungry again. The music is sweeping and impressive. There are a lot of gowns.

From the outset, the movie is determined to invent a romantic fantasy world for the Old Southerners to inhabit, where everybody has fancy dress-up parties and proposes to each other constantly. Here’s a quick sample:

Ashley:  You seem to belong here… as if it had all been imagined for you.

Melanie:  I like to feel that I belong to the things you love.

Ashley:  You love Twelve Oaks, as I do.

Melanie:  Yes, Ashley. I love it as more than a house. It’s a whole world, that wants only to be graceful, and beautiful.

This graceful and beautiful world, obviously, is not available for everyone; once you get outside this specific percentile, it gets a lot less graceful in a hurry.

So, I hear you ask, if the movie is primarily concerned with the love life and bank account of a plantation owner’s daughter, when do they acknowledge that slavery was cruel and violent, causing incalculable suffering and long-term injustice? The answer to that question is never. Not even once.

There is not a single scene in the movie that shows a slave who’s even spoken to sharply, except for Mammy, who takes it in her stride. We only see working field slaves once, at quitting time, and they don’t even look tired.

Besides Mammy, an aggressively mentally deficient housemaid and an old guy who kills a chicken, the house slaves are background at best, occasionally glimpsed helping somebody out of a carriage, or passing out drinks. They don’t even do that very often; there’s a sequence set at a fancy ball in Atlanta, which is apparently being catered by nobody, because you don’t see a single Black face in the whole sequence. All the slaves must have taken a break at the same time; that’s the only way to explain it.

Unlike The Birth of a Nation, we don’t see much of the actual Civil War. The story of Gone With the Wind is told from Scarlett’s perspective, so all we see is the Confederate soldiers marching off, and then being carried back on stretchers.

At one point, there’s a big spectacle scene where Scarlett is urgently trying to find a doctor to deliver Melanie’s baby, while the doctor is busy tending to the wounded Confederate soldiers. As she hunts for him, the camera pulls back and back and back, way more than you’d think they would, and we see the entire studio backlot, awash with the injured and the dead.

So the rebellion was defeated and the Union preserved, which the film presents solely in the negative. There’s no hint of a justification for why the United States ought to exist, and there isn’t a single Southern character who says, well, maybe we were a scoche in the wrong, thinking that we could purchase human beings. Even Rhett can’t muster up a moment of self-reflection on that score.

The situation is presented entirely from the point of view that the North was rude and ungallant, and jealous of how great the South was, so they burned it all down for no reason and then acted like dicks about it.

This scene of Ashley and Scarlett making post-war speeches at each other sums up the lunatic hypocrisy of the entire endeavor:

Ashley:  Oh, I could never make you understand, because you don’t know the meaning of fear. You never mind facing realities… you never want to escape from them, as I do.

Scarlett:  Escape? Oh, Ashley, you’re wrong! I do want to escape, too! I’m so very tired of it all! I’ve struggled for food and for money, I’ve weeded and hoed and picked cotton until I can’t stand it another minute! I tell you, Ashley, the South is dead! It’s dead! The Yankees and the carpetbaggers have got it, and there’s nothing left for us!

So what we’ve got here are two characters on a plantation in the 1860s saying that they’re tired of picking cotton and are desperate to escape, and they’re both white, and the audience is expected to take that seriously.

As far as the Black characters go, the best you can say is that by 1939, they’re not casting white actors in blackface anymore. Hattie McDaniel is actually excellent as Mammy and deserves the Academy Award that she won, but it’s a degrading part, playing the “good” slave who loves her masters so much that she continues taking care of them after the war, hardly even noticing that she’s been emancipated.

And the other house slave, Prissy, is a fucking nightmare: a screeching, simple-minded lunatic who has multiple comedy scenes based on how stupid and pathetic she is.

For my money, the craziest moment in the film is when Scarlett goes to Atlanta, and she sees two Black men walking down the street in suits and hats, laughing with each other and entirely minding their own business, and she just stares at them with a look of abject horror and despair.

The movie even criticizes the idea of giving Black people the vote. The Atlanta sidewalk scene includes a Northern carpetbagger giving a sales pitch to a group of ignorant Black people, who respond to him in an exaggerated comedy-minstrel voice.

Carpetbagger:  You know what we’re gonna do? We’re going to give every last one of you forty acres and a mule!

Black voice:  Fo’ty acres an’ a mule?

Carpetbagger:  Forty acres and a mule!

Black voice:  Gee!

Carpetbagger:  Cause we’re your friend! And you’re gonna become voters! And you’re gonna vote like your friends do!

This is exactly the same as the “forty acres and a mule” scene in The Birth of a Nation. The obvious takeaway from this moment, in both films, is that Black people don’t deserve the franchise, because they’re too ignorant to know what to do with it.

And then Mammy pushes her way through a group of young Black men on the sidewalk who, again, are completely minding their own business. As she passes, she swats at them with her umbrella, saying, “Out of our way, trash! Get out of the way, here! Get away!”

There isn’t a single moment in this true-to-life historical epic that challenges the idea that Black people are born to be servants, and that any Black person who isn’t currently in the process of making life easier for a white person is a waste of time and a danger to society.

So, no: this is not the greatest movie of all time. It’s not even a great movie, period. It’s too long and it’s repetitive, and most of the characters are weak and forgettable, especially Ashley, Scarlett’s sisters, and her first two husbands. As far as romance goes, it’s unclear who you’re supposed to be rooting for. Also, it actively promotes white supremacy.

I’d go so far as to say that it’s a good movie, if you don’t care about Black people. This is especially true if you just watch the Clark Gable scenes, which is what I would suggest.

So if I don’t think the movie’s so great, then how do I account for it becoming such a sensation?

And it really was an unbelievably huge deal. The pre-release publicity was too elaborate for me to explain, so I’m just going to give you one paragraph from The Art of Gone With the Wind: The Making of a Legend about the three-day festival in Atlanta leading up to the premiere:

On Thursday [the day before the premiere], the people of Atlanta were already walking the streets in salvaged Civil War finery and antebellum dresses. There was a 10:15am lamplighting ceremony at the corner of Whitehall and Alabama streets: The lamppost had withstood Sherman’s siege and was relit to symbolize the undying Confederate spirit. Kurtz and Ann Rutherford made speeches. The governor gave everyone the rest of the day off, since he had declared Premiere Day a state holiday.

So people were treating the opening of this movie as if it would actually undo the results of the Civil War, and bring back the Confederacy. And it wasn’t just insane people in the South who flocked to the film; it happened all over the country.

To explain this phenomenon, I can only point back to The Birth of a Nation, which was the first homemade American blockbuster, twenty-five years before Gone With the Wind.

The film version of Gone With the Wind doesn’t openly shill for the Ku Klux Klan — the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was able to head that off, at least — but the novel absolutely does. At one point, the narrator explains about the tragic necessity:

“It was the large number of outrages on women and the ever-present fear for the safety of their wives and daughters that drove Southern men to cold and trembling fury and caused the Ku Klux Klan to spring up overnight. And it was against this nocturnal organization that the newspapers of the North cried out most loudly, never realizing the tragic necessity that brought it into being.”

They still do the lynching sequence in the movie, with Frank and Ashley running out to string up the degenerates that tried to assault a white woman, but they don’t actually put on hoods. The producer, David O. Selznick, wrote a memo to the screenwriter asking for the Klan not to be mentioned: “A group of men can go out to ‘get’ the perpetrators of an attempted rape without having long white sheets over them and without having their membership in a society as a motive.”

But in every other way, the film fully endorses the “tragic necessity” of keeping Black people in their place, and it expresses a deep longing to return to the beauty and grace of slave-assisted plantation life.

So it simply can’t be a coincidence that The Birth of a Nation was the most popular film ever made, until Gone With the Wind came along, and both movies just happen to be about how great it was when Black people could be traded like baseball cards.

You can say that it’s about the romance or the music or the gowns, but there were a lot of very good movies produced between 1915 and 1971 that didn’t advocate for the return of the Confederacy. I can’t think of any of their names off the top of my head, but there must have been some; it stands to reason. The overwhelming success of those two specific films means that the racism was a feature, not a bug.

Hollywood is the American fantasy factory, churning out an endless succession of dream worlds and imaginary love affairs, and for most of the 20th century, America indicated that the dream we prized the most was to relight that lamppost in Atlanta, to symbolize the undying Confederate spirit.

And here in the 1970s, where you and I currently are, we should probably figure out how to get some truth, justice and the American way into our blockbuster movies, before it’s too late. I think we’re going to need a bigger boat.

Tomorrow:
1.88: Toward a General Theory
of the Ding-Dong


Footnotes:

There’s a great article from the Atlantic called “Gone With the Wind and Hollywood’s Racial Politics“, which tells the whole story of David O. Selznick’s struggles with the NAACP and the Black press during the production, including Selznick’s deeply-felt conviction that the N-word should be in the movie. I planned to include some of that story in this post, but I didn’t get around to it, so go and check out the article, because it’s fascinating.

Also, because this probably ought to have some kind of connection to Superman somehow: the 1950s TV Superman, George Reeves, appears in Gone With the Wind as Stuart Templeton, one of the redheaded Tarleton twins. The twins appear in the first scene talking to Scarlett about barbecue and waltzes, and then a couple more times in party scenes. In the picture below, he’s the one on the right.

Tomorrow:
1.88: Toward a General Theory
of the Ding-Dong

Chapters

— Danny Horn

33 thoughts on “Superman 1.87: The Other Movie About Black People

  1. Okay, I’ll claim it out. No point in discretion. I watch several documentaries sometimes on an annual basis:

    HOLLYWOOD (1980) “The Pioneers” whose second act is on THE BIRTH OF A NATION.

    THE MAKING OF A LEGEND: GONE WITH THE WIND (1990)

    D W GRIFFITH: THE FATHER OF FILM (1993) “Episode One” which also focuses on TBOAN.

    I like these docus, and have probably watched them more than the film sources.

    Sorry if that means I’m a disappointment to you.

    On a different note: are BEN-HUR, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, THE GODFATHER, JAWS going to get a thread sometime in the future?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I will enthusiastically recommend the entire Hollywood documentary series; it was impeccably made, at a time when the people who lived in that era still were around for interviews. (And the opening theme music can still bring me to tears.)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. This parody was perfect because it pointed out what most people today think of when they think of GWTW; the outfits and glamour. It’s why people in this year of our Lord 2022 still think plantation weddings are a great idea.

      It’s presented in the popular imagination as this grand romance, but nobody thinks about A) it’s a “romance” between two sociopaths who make Angelique and Barnabas seem well adjusted, and who destroy the lives of everybody they come in contact with, and B) said romance, like everything else in the film, IS SUPPORTED BY AND SUPPORTING OF SLAVERY.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Still the best sight gag in tv history.
      Another show that parodied GWTW was “Designing Women”. In one scene the Black character played by Meshach Taylor points out that the ladies’ idea of Tara was not his. And then he fantasizes about a Black Scarlett slapping around a white Prissy played by Jan Hooks!
      The lingering attachment to Scarlett among some Southern women is something I can attest to. They saw her as a great romantic heroine. It was potent enough that a sequel was a best-seller and they made a mini-series out of it. I neither read nor watched.
      At the risk of disappointing Danny and revealing how shallow I was as a teen, I largely saw it as soap opera with Rhett and Scarlett better-dressed versions of, say, Ridge and Brooke from “The Bold and the Beautiful” or Erica Kane and anybody. It was sweeping and I was swept up. Also, I was already a fan of Gable, Olivia de Havilland (from her movies with Errol Flynn) and Leslie Howard by way of the Bette Davis movies “It’s Love I’m After” (a rare Davis comedy), “The Petrified Forest” and “Of Human Bondage”. (In “It’s Love I’m After”, de Havilland’s character states she can get over her crush on Howard’s character because she had gotten over Clark Gable the year before!)
      Did GWTW perpetuate the Myth of the Old South? Yes, but the Myth didn’t need GWTW. They still played “Dixie” at high school football games when I was a kid. They also played “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I’m sure Southern conservatives would say they believe in Truth, Justice and the American Way. Their idea of what the American Way is is where the problem arises.
      I better stop before I end up writing 100 posts on GWTW.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. In the novel, Prissy was the daughter of a Native American slave named Dilcey. Dilcey as a character was not in the movie. Not sure who Prissy belonged to in the movie, but I don’t think that Prissy was Hattie McDaniel’s Mammy character in the movie.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for including the picture of George Reeves. He’s the only reason I finally saw ‘Gone With the Wind’ circa 1977. It really is a long, dull movie, agonizing to sit through.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The one and only scene I like is one with Rhett (natch) incredulously listening to a group of Fine Southern Gentlemen, all of whom have spent their pampered lives being waited on and having their wealth generated by enslaved black people, go on and on about how eager they are for the war so they can “show” them damn Yankees how Proper Men behave.

      Rhett is gazing at these morons with the contempt they deserve, pointing out that said contemptible yanks massively outgun them and have ironclad ships (which were used to enforce economically devastating blockades; cotton couldn’t get out, and needed supplies couldn’t get in) and the men simply sniff and wave brandy glasses and really, truly believe that God is on their side and will hand them victory.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And yet Rhett still goes off in the end to fight for what he knows is a lost cause, to set you straight in case you thought he wasn’t really on their side.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Wow, I had no idea George Reeves was in GwtW!
      I watched it a few times when it played every year on CBS, but only remember the long-running “will they or won’t they?” plot of Scarlett and Rhett and wondering why she had any interest in that drip.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, yes. There was a Superman connection, wasn’t there? George Reeves is in the film.
    I saw GWTW in 1971 on the big screen. The Vietnam War was happening at the same time and when the scene of the wounded and dying men showed up, it was like a punch to the gut. I thought, “Nothing is worth that.” I’m surprised they left that scene in since WW2 had already started in Europe. Or maybe the original audience didn’t have the same reaction I did.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think many of them had exactly that reaction. The movie’s #1 message is that slavery was great, but it also fits in a firm anti-war stance. Since the only part of the USA where the idea of intervening in the Second World War was at all popular before 7 December 1941 was the South, where the movie-going public was so enthusiastic about the project it was going to be a hit in any case, the anti-war theme was good box office.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks Danny and commenters for a very educational post.

    I never got around to watch Gone With the Wind. I always wondered what I missed. Didn’t want to invest four hours to find out. Now I don’t have to wonder any more!

    Looks like my best way to watch the movie is to just fast forward until Clark Gable shows up. Or until there’s some amazing moment of fancy photography.

    Danny, you mentioned that the Superman movie’s only use of a Black actor was to provide the jivin’ pimp of comic relief. I wonder if the comics (up til then) and TV and radio show had anything better for any Black characters? Were lowlife criminals or evil masterminds & henchmen any more likely to be Black?

    Interesting that more recently, superheroes have been a metaphor for oppressed peoples. Mutants in the X-Men films, registration required in recent Marvel films, outer-space alien humanoids in general in a few recent season of Supergirl. Say, Jim! That’s quite a switch in a couple of decades!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The Superman radio show had a couple big pro-tolerance anti-KKK stories: “Clan of the Fiery Cross” in 1946, and “Knights of the White Carnation” in 1947.

      “Clan of the Fiery Cross” is about a Chinese-American kid on a Smallville Little League baseball team, who gets targeted by a racist gang. The Clan burns a cross on the kid’s front lawn, and then they start targeting Perry, who’s running investigative reports on the group. “Knights of the White Carnation” is basically a repeat of the previous story from eight months earlier, but with three kids as the initial targets: Irish, Italian and Jewish.

      They’re very strong anti-prejudice stories, and there are reports that the show actually did disrupt KKK recruitment and activities. George Reeves also did a lot of PSAs and appearances, spreading the message that bigotry based on a person’s race or faith is un-American.

      That being said… they never included a Black character at all; the bigotry was aimed at Chinese, Italian, Irish and Jewish kids. The show spent a year talking about race prejudice and fighting the Klan, but they didn’t mention the people who were the primary targets of the group. I don’t know the history of Black integration on radio or early TV, but including Black characters/actors may have been seen as controversial, especially in the South. So I think Superman’s anti-Klan campaign was courageous and important, but also disappointing that they didn’t address the Klan’s anti-Black racism head-on.

      I don’t think there were any Black characters on the 1950s Superman TV show at all. I think integrated casts weren’t common until the 60s.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. The Klan did not only target Blacks. During the Klans’ resurgence in the 1920s, my husband’s grandfather was threatened because he was Catholic. His family had lived in the area for over a hundred years and weren’t going anywhere, though my husband said some of their newer Italian neighbors did leave. I didn’t hear this story until after my father-in-law’s death so I don’t know how much he was affected by the situation but I do know he was involved in programs to help the Black community in his hometown in the 1960s. Maybe making kids understand that they could be an arbitrary target of bigotry themselves helped them to oppose bigotry against others, even if Blacks weren’t specifically mentioned on the program.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Thanks, that’s very interesting! When I think of the Superman radio shows, I think of mindless entertainment, not a courageous stand against real-life social evil. My respect for the show makers just went up a whole lot!

        Like

      3. Clan of the Fiery Cross was also adapted into an excellent graphic novel called “Superman Smashes the Clan” just last year, written by Gene Leun Yang and drawn by Gurihiru (a dream team in my opinion). It’s more sci-fi than the original radio story, but it’s really great too.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. As for DC Comics’ attitude to black characters in Superman related comics, I point towards the character of Science Police Officer Dvron in ‘Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes’ set in the 30th Century.

      In the mid-70s, artist Mike Grell wanted to make this future cop black. Not for any particular story reason, just because there hadn’t been any black characters before and there really ought to be some.
      Editorial overruled him and had the character coloured caucasian with red hair! (It was really obvious from the art he was supposed to be black.)
      They said they had a proper plan in hand to introduce a black member of the Legion and didn’t want Grell to jump the gun.
      So, the following year, they came out with the character Tyroc who was the typical “angry young black man” trope who lived on an isolated island where all the black people had gone to live by themselves!!

      Yes. Seriously. DC editorial actually thought that was a good idea!

      Mike Grell did his job and drew the story but gave the Tyroc character the most offensively ridiculous stereotype costume he could get away with, thereby ensuring that the character would be quickly forgotten as an embarrassment.
      Tyroc went on to make, maybe three appearances over the next few years before being permanently written out for decades (before being brought back briefly in the 90s and then in the 2010s by creative teams wanting to do the character decently.)

      Like

      1. Mike Grell did his job and drew the story but gave the Tyroc character the most offensively ridiculous stereotype costume he could get away with, thereby ensuring that the character would be quickly forgotten as an embarrassment.

        I visually knew exactly who you were describing but didn’t know that an an act of sabotage. I always assumed Tyroc’s ridiculous costume was a 1970’s Blaxploitation thing.

        Like

  5. This response is a bit of a struggle for me, in that I truly LOVE GWTW – both the novel and the film – yet I also acknowledge and agree that both novel and film do promote a pro-slavery, pro-KKK, and prejudicial anti-black perspective, which is repugnant then and now.
    I have also read the main sequels approved by Margaret Mitchell’s estate, “Scarlett” and “Rhett Butler’s People,” each of which took the story in completely different directions. (I also don’t think either of those books’ authors really understood the true complexity of Scarlett’s character at all.) “Rhett Butler’s People,” as told from Rhett’s POV, has a character who is more deeply and directly involved in the KKK, as I recall.
    I have heard that the black actors in the film GWTW actually stood up to Selznick, specifically requesting that the N-word not be used in the film. It WAS used in the book, but ultimately the black actors won – it was not used in the film.
    I first saw GWTW in theater in 1975 at age 14. I was also strongly into soaps, even dreaming of someday creating my own soap at the time. I just felt swept up in the spectacle, the history, the epic music, and the romance of unrequited and mis-fired love (or a great love with many many misunderstandings), all of which are actual real-life themes for me.
    My first watching was so overwhelming that when I first saw the GWTW film on TV in 1976 (or so) – it was on for two nights as I recall – I had completely forgotten that ** SPOILER ALERT ** Melanie dies in the end.
    I then read the book for the first time when I was 17 and was completely enthralled.
    One thing – there’s a scene where both Melanie and Scarlett are tending to wounded soldiers at the Atlanta hospital. Our self-centered Scarlett, bored and tired, was complaining about all this unglamorous and distasteful work, caring for the sick and wounded. Scarlett asks her sister-in-law, the sweet, loving, giving and self-less Melanie (Scarlett’s opposite in many respects, but also a complex character – Melanie was in her own way, a tower of strength, a kind and loving comforting soul, who almost unbelievably loved Scarlett for who she was): “How can you stand this, Melanie — all these men who are sick and dying?”
    I think at this point in the story, Melanie’s husband Ashley, was MIA (he ultimately turned out to have been a POW in Rock Island), and Melanie replies, “If I am kind to a soldier here, I feel like I’m also helping my Ashley. I only hope that somewhere, someone is looking after my Ashley, just as I look after these men here.” (This is a paraphrase – I’m not using the exact words from the film.)
    I have heard that home-front women who saw this particular scene in WW2 would weep, hoping their menfolk on active duty or overseas were safe and cared for.
    I actually could go on and on about GWTW, both book and film. The book was such a huge bestseller that when a film test audience first saw the somewhat unfinished film at some theater (according to the “Making of”), the entire audience erupted in cheers! People really wanted to see GWTW on the screen!
    On an even deeper level – the four principal characters – Scarlett, Melanie, Ashley, and Rhett – I have sometimes had a personal theory that these characters could somehow, on an almost dream-level, be the same person, just at different times of someone’s life?
    To relate all of this to soaps, Susan Lucci said several times that her character Erica Kane on “All My Children” was a modern-day Scarlett O’Hara. (The more I think about it, Erica’s mother Mona was very much like Melanie, almost too good to be true.)
    Even the final line in AMC’s final episode on ABC is a nod to GWTW, when Erica pleadingly asks Jackson, “Where will I go? What will I do?” And Jackson replies: “Frankly, Erica, I don’t give a damn.”
    Yes, Erica was also self-centered, yet she had a vulnerability. In some ways, Scarlett also had a certain vulnerability, but didn’t always show it. She was very much like a frightened girl, sometimes wanting her mother to protect her, but her mother died before Scarlett got safely home to Tara (escaping Sherman’s burning of Atlanta). And when she gets home to Tara, Scarlett must become the head of the household – so in some ways, it is a coming of age story for Scarlett.
    I apologize that this is so long, and I could easily go on and on. All I will say is that there really are a lot of levels to GWTW, both book and film version. Despite the ugliness of its racism, in my opinion, it should not entirely be written off.

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  6. Things move sideways, or worse. Even though I’m quitting, I go to a nearly all-white gym that plays almost nothing but cartoony gangsta rap, with its “N—–” this and its “N—–” that. That’s because both blacks and whites have been HOSED into thinking that’s some kind of real “black experience.” As far as I’m concerned, you can take minstrel shows, jungle movies, Song of the South AND Gone With The Wind, put them all together, and it just barely EQUALS that stuff when it comes to ugly racial stuff. So, frankly I don’t give a whole lot of thought to this film.

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  7. Interesting timing. My husband and I toured the Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington NC over the holidays. http://www.bellamymansion.org.

    We picked up a small book written by one of the Bellamy children who had been a child during the Civil War. She said she wrote the book to answer the nonsense written in Gone with the Wind.

    … so I haven’t read it yet but have been warned she was …. ahem… “opinionated” (In other words she was a product of her time that you would not want to be speaking with in public but might tolerate at a holiday dinner just because she was ancient.)

    Back With the Tide: Memoirs of Ellen Douglas Bellamy

    As for the Gone with the Wind Movie, I saw it on TV in the 70’s when I was on the edge of tween/teen. In Colorado anyway, tv and the public schools had taught us not to be racist even though a lot of us were raised by people who had varying remnants of that nonsense in their upbringing. So when I watched the movie I knew it was racist and outdated like many old movies. My main takeaways were confusion about why anyone would be attracted to Ashley, dislike of Scarlett’s spoiled behavior, and wondering how Prissy could be so vapid. (In today’s terminology I liken her to someone like Paris Hilton. I’m retconning, but Prissy was a house servant, maybe a lady’s maid (?) and that gave her elevated social standing. She thought more like the privileged white girls she served … those belles were pretty vapid too. I just kind of assumed Prissy operated on their wavelength even though they’d not see her as an equal.)

    Oh, and if anyone is curious, these days when one tours historical Southern mansions there is usually respectful documentation of the lives the enslaved had to endure.

    When we toured Liberty Hall, I was thinking, “Yeah right…. liberty.” However, in this case, all the enslaved people had been freed before the Civil War. http://www.libertyhallnc.org

    (Sorry to sound like the NC tourism board but we love the history even though there are shameful things in the past and legacy of things that still need to be rectified.)

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    1. “Oh, and if anyone is curious, these days when one tours historical Southern mansions there is usually respectful documentation of the lives the enslaved had to endure.”

      Not always. We recently toured the homes in Natchez, MS and there wasn’t a whisper of context. In fact one of the docents, describing the successful business relations of one of the owners stated, ” So everyone was happy.” Ulk, I can think of some people who weren’t happy. On the other hand, in Baton Rouge, a statue dedicated to “one of the good darkies” was presented (in a museum) with context which proved to be quite educational.

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  8. I saw GwtW a few years back at the National Film Theatre in London. This was when they had just completed a new restoration.
    The panel of film restorers explained to the audience that they’d got a third of the way through completing a new colour grading of the film when someone found the original 1939 colour testing charts for the film stock at the back of a cupboard and so they had to go back to the beginning and start the colour restoration again from scratch!

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  9. Reactions to the book and movie are complicated. Definitely, Margaret Mitchell was a true believer in the myth of the Old South and Reconstruction–that slavery was good and natural, the war was a terrible tragedy, and Reconstruction was a terrible crime perpetrated by a vengeful North against a prostrate South. But that is the background of the book and movie–not the point of them. The point is Scarlett, a spoiled 16-year-old when the story opens, who finds her world upended and who grasps and schemes and kills a man and does all sorts of ungraceful and unladylike things in order to survive and provide for her family. The press about the reactions to the book in the 1930s stress that Mitchell began writing in 1926, before the Depression, as many apparently saw Scarlett’s impoverishment and marrying for money to save the family home as a Depression-like plot.

    The deeper point of the book, mostly not made clear in the movie, is that Scarlett symbolizes Atlanta, a go-ahead, cunning, commercial New South city, unlike the supposed non-commercial, charming, graceful Old South (represented by the old cities of Savannah and Charleston that Scarlett disliked, and by the Great Lady characters of Scarlett’s mother and Melanie.) Repeatedly, we are told that Scarlett wants to be a great lady like her mother, but she doesn’t have time yet–she needs to make money.

    Scarlett also in the end sees things pretty clearly. When she uses convict labor in her lumber mill (played in the movie by white actors, although in reality leased convict labor was overwhelmingly Black), Ashley says he didn’t want to profit off the misery of others. Scarlett responds, “You weren’t so particular about owning slaves.” And Ashley does respond defensively–he says they didn’t beat or starve their slaves, and he would have freed them after his father died. But still–Scarlett sees slavery as misery.

    And finally, unlike another Civil War romance, So Red the Rose (1935), where all the freed people decide to stay on the plantation, both book and movie GWTW make clear that only Pork and Mammy (and in the book, Pork’s wife Dilsey) remained at Tara after the Union army passed through. All the other enslaved people emancipated themselves by following the soldiers. No, the book does not tell their stories, and the book does say this sudden freedom was bad for the freed people–but at least it isn’t entirely a tale about mythical happy slaves who rejected freedom.

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