According to acclaimed filmmaker and black activist Spike Lee, Gone With The Wind is an absolute must-watch for white audiences. While appearing on the talk show The View to promote his new film, Da 5 Bloods, Lee said that seeing this one-time Hollywood darling could help open people’s eyes to the racism that has pervaded not only the history of America, but the American film industry as well.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the source material – which, unless you’re a film buff, is quite plausible considering this picture came quite a few decades ago – Gone With The Wind is a love story that spans both the American Civil War and the Reconstruction eras. Though widely regarded as a classic, it’s also been criticized for romanticizing the American South and downplaying issues like the abolition of slavery and the disenfranchisement of blacks to make room for a story about the sexual relations of white folks.
Another movie that Lee recommended was Birth of a Nation. Directed by W.B. Griffith in the early 20th century, it’s an ambitious pic from an ambitious and trend-setting filmmaker, but it’s also a perversely heroic origin story of the KKK – a disturbing fact which many have willfully overlooked for a long time.
Like Reni Riefenstahl’s Hitler-worshiping documentary Triumph of the Will, W.B. Griffith’s magnum opus occupies a precarious place in the history of cinema. On the one hand, it was one of the first feature films ever made, one that introduced a plethora of technical features that served as a blueprint for many productions that came after it.
On the other, it’s an undeniably racist story which goes to show how prejudiced and simple-minded the American public can be, and recognizing this dimension of the film in particular would – according to Lee – perhaps contribute to fostering better relations between groups of people in the future.
One of the most socially-conscious filmmakers of modern times – if not all of history – Lee is fully aware of the ugly legacy that Birth of a Nation left behind. For one, it was a major inspiration for Gone With The Wind, whose reels were used in the opening sequence of one of Lee’s more recent efforts, BlacKkKlansman, which follows a black officer teaming up with a white one to infiltrate the KKK.