Gone With The Wind has returned to the US streaming service HBO Max accompanied by a disclaimer saying the classic film “denies the horrors of slavery”.
The 1939 civil war epic was removed from the service – Warner Bros’s recently launched rival to Netflix and Disney+ – following criticism of its “racist depictions” earlier this month.
John Ridley, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years A Slave, argued for it to be temporarily taken down due to its portrayal of the pre-war South, describing it in an article in the LA Times as “a film that, when it is not ignoring the horrors of slavery, pauses only to perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color”.
HBO responded with a statement, which said: “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.”
The film has now returned to HBO Max, accompanied by two videos discussing its historical context.
One clip features TV host and film scholar Jacqueline Stewart, who acknowledges Gone With the Wind as “one of most enduringly popular films of all time” but notes its depiction of African American people was controversial even at release.
“Producer David O Selznick was well aware that black audiences were deeply concerned about the film’s handling of the topic of slavery and its treatment of black characters,” she said.
Despite producer Selznick assuring African American viewers that the film would sensitively handle their concerns, Stewart said Gone With The Wind instead presents “the Antebellum South as a world of grace and beauty without acknowledging the brutalities of the system of chattel slavery upon which this world is based”.
She added: “The film’s treatment of this world through a lens of nostalgia denies the horrors of slavery, as well as its legacies of racial inequality.”
The second video is an hour-long panel discussion debating Gone With the Wind‘s “complicated legacy”.
Gone With the Wind told the love story of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivienne Leigh), the daughter of a plantation owner, and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). It was a commercial success, and won eight Oscars and two honorary awards. However, African American writers and activists immediately objected to its depiction of passive, compliant slaves, and the sentimentality with which it depicted the pre-civil war US south.
Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy, a house servant, became the first African American to win an Oscar when she took home the best supporting actress Academy Award. However, she was not allowed to sit with the other cast members at the ceremony dinner at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, which enforced racial segregation until 1959.