In a move that can only stoke the fires of the culture war, HBO Max has removed Gone With the Wind from its streaming library. The 1939 Hollywood classic has long been a lightning rod for criticism of its depiction of African-Americans, the way it skims over slavery and the romanticization of the South during the American Civil War. And, of course, given what’s going on in the country right now, these issues couldn’t be more relevant.
12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley wrote an op-ed in the LA Times yesterday calling the movie out and arguing for it to be temporarily removed, saying:
Let me be real clear: I don’t believe in censorship. I don’t think “Gone With the Wind” should be relegated to a vault in Burbank. I would just ask, after a respectful amount of time has passed, that the film be re-introduced to the HBO Max platform along with other films that give a more broad-based and complete picture of what slavery and the Confederacy truly were. Or, perhaps it could be paired with conversations about narratives and why it’s important to have many voices sharing stories from different perspectives rather than merely those reinforcing the views of the prevailing culture.
Mere hours after this was published, the film disappeared from HBO Max’s library. Now, it appears that the streaming network are going to follow Ridley’s suggestions and reinstate it along with context about when it was made and the history behind the story.
An HBO Max representative explained the following:
“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. These depictions are certainly counter to WarnerMedia’s values, so when we return the film to HBO Max it will return with a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions, but will be presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. If we are to create a more just, equitable and inclusive future, we must first acknowledge and understand our history.”
Regardless of when and how it returns, this has created quite a stink. One person in particular who’s bound to be upset will be President Donald Trump, who’s repeatedly named Gone with the Wind as one of his favorite movies. Earlier this year, he reacted to Parasite winning best picture by saying in a rally speech that:
“I’m looking for like … let’s get Gone with the Wind, can we get Gone with the Wind back, please?”
So, HBO Max and WarnerMedia’s decision is likely to infuriate him and an angry tweet from the White House feels inevitable. For my part, it’s undeniable that Gone with the Wind has racist elements and paints a ludicrously rosy picture of the Antebellum South. On the flipside, the movie is responsible for Hattie McDaniel winning Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the 1940 Academy Awards, making her the first African American to win and be nominated for an Academy Award (though famously, she was not allowed to sit with her white co-stars).
Gone with the Wind is an important movie, but in the end, I think HBO Max has made the right call here.