Gone With the Wind is no longer gone from HBO Max, having been restored to the streaming service’s library with a new prologue about the film’s problematic themes and depictionof the antebellum South.
Jacqueline Stewart, host of TCM’s “Silent Sunday Nights” and a professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, leads the four-and-a-half minute intro, which starts off with a general cinematic lesson — recounting the eight Academy Awards (including for Best Picture) won in 1939 by the “highly anticipated” adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s novel, as well as its inflation-adjusted standing as the highest grossing movie of all time.
Then, Stewart acknowledges that the film “was not universally praised,” seeing as it “paints the picture of the antebellum South as a ‘romantic, idyllic setting that’s tragically been lost to the past.'”
Stewart notes how producer David O. Selznick assured the NAACP at the time that he was “sensitive to the feelings of minority peoples,” yet proceeded to deliver a film that depicts a “world of grace and beauty, without acknowledging the brutalities of the system of chattel slavery upon which this world is based.” Stewart says that “the treatment of this world through the lens of nostalgia denies the horrors of slavery as well its legacies of racial inequality.”
Stewart concedes that while watching Gone With the Wind “can be uncomfortable, even painful,” “it is important that classic Hollywood films are available to us in their original form” to “invite viewers to reflect on their own beliefs when watching them now.”
“Gone With the Wind, with its landmark production values, signature scenes and iconic characters has shaped the way generations have pictured slavery and the reconstruction period that followed,” she says in conclusion. “It is not only a major document of Hollywood’s racist practices of the past, but also an enduring work of popular culture that speaks directly to the racial inequalities that persist in media and society today.”
Is Stewart’s prologue fair, juxtaposing Gone With the Wind‘s strengths as a piece of cinema with its weaknesses as a portrayal of the antebellum South?