A Flawed ‘Gone With the Wind’ – Depiction of American Slavery Not the Only Provocation

The temporary withdrawal of the film “Gone With the Wind” from HBO’s menu and the intention of adding an explanatory introduction, must have resulted in more people watching the 1939 movie at the moment than would have otherwise thought to do so. Which is good. When a person’s experience is fresh, there can be a better discussion of what the colorful romance is really all about.

The reason the film is provocative and why perhaps it needs that explanatory introduction is more than just the depiction of the late phase of American slavery. Of course, it is uncomfortable to see the heroine Scarlett O’Hara slap an adolescent Black girl (next to many white people) or to watch white children rest while Black children their own age fan them with peacock feathers.

A much more substantial point is that the film is an outright manifesto of the so-called lost cause ideology, the assertion that southerners in the Civil War did not fight so much for economic advantage associated with the exploitation of slaves as for the preservation of traditional values, order, gentility, nobility and piety.

The victorious northerners tolerated – even supported – this legend in the interest of allowing the defeated South to save face, which apparently eased the adjustment of postwar relations significantly. “Gone With the Wind” and its reception are a major indication of the amazing extent to which Yankees in America were able to renounce the interpretation of history which victors are supposed to write.

Three-quarters of a century after the war in the country whose fate was fought over, the film garnered eight Oscars and an altogether enthusiastic reception as it depicted an invasion by the plebeian North as being economically, socially and morally devastating to the virtuous, hardworking and prosperous South.

The error that crept into this benevolent approach is obvious, at least today. In the process of cultivating a “harmless” myth of a morally superior South, the Black population was forgotten – along with its truth, which seemed insignificant to white people involved in postwar reconciliation. Now the Yankees are learning that it will be beneficial to societal peacemaking to allow Black fellow citizens to narrate history for a change.

Certainly, many are sincerely convinced of the need for revealing the truth, but one still can’t discount the presence of a pragmatic approach, already used in relation to white southerners: Let them interpret as they will, the main thing is that there be peace. But, as we see being demonstrated right now, the uncritical acceptance of one ideologically conditioned interpretation of history is no long-term guarantee of conciliation.

An explanatory introduction to “Gone With the Wind” is something we can live with. But a reader might easily be a bit uncomfortable with the serious list of additional “defective” films that Variety magazine published last week. Among them are Robert Zemeckis’ “Forrest Gump” from 1994, which is said to be hostile to protesters, activists and the counterculture.

Yankees may be capable of furnishing “Forrest Gump” with an official introduction saying that counterculture is perfect, which is the best way to make it into a May Day parade in the future complete with banners on poles.

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