There are several ladies that I know who love Gone With The Wind. When I spent about a year researching the author, the novel, and the movie, I chatted with these women about why they liked Gone With The Wind so much, and I started noticing some trends.
- First, they thought it was an accurate portrayal of the past.
- Second, they admired Scarlett O’Hara’s strength to overcome and survive.
- Third, they drew relationship lessons from the movie.
- Fourth, they had very fond memories of watching the film on TV with their moms or sisters.
- Fifth, who cares about the history or the plot? It’s THE DRESSES.
- Sixth, forget all else…it’s CLARK GABLE.
I’ve been snooping around on social media and various chat boards in the last few days to get some ideas on responses to the current GWTW “crisis” among fans. Those six points seem to be holding true for the majority of GWTW defenders.
Are these wrong reasons to like the movie? Not really. Okay, the first point is problematic, but it has been presented as “true history” for decades.
How much is influenced by our own personal views. Just because I’m not a huge fan of Clark Gable (there, I said it) and have opinions on Scarlett doesn’t mean that others viewers don’t have valid, warm fuzzy memories about the movie or the kinship they felt with friends or family as they watched the epic long film.
Here’s the problem that I’m seeing. Those warm fuzzy memories have become part of the “defense” of GWTW. “How dare anyone touch that movie?” echoes with “How dare you wreck my fond memories of movie nights with my sisters?” I believe there is a strong culture around the movie that does not necessarily intend to be offensive or insensitive, but that culture is so deeply entrenched in how it views the movie (and personal memories associated with it) that it is hard to see how others might be offended by stereotypes or racist moments.
Thoughts and feelings, memories and maybe even life-changing moments have been associated with the four-hour marathon, imprinting an entirely “new” set of thoughts and emotions that are different than 1860’s history and different from 1939 views. Will adding a studio or streaming disclaiming and options to view some additional resources raise awareness of some of the historical challenges with the all-time favorite? Maybe. I hope so.
This is an area where I feel quite conflicted about Gone With The Wind. I have my feelings as a researcher. I have my feelings as a movie watcher. (Yeah, I still put those in different categories at the moment.) Here’s the catch, we are not going to be able to talk about the problematic areas of Gone With The Wind if we land like a ton of bricks. How is a grandma going to feel if someone bursts in and say, “Don’t you ever watch Gone With The Wind again, because it’s got problems!” (Basically, what I believe happened from HBO Max on June 10.) First, she’s going to stare in shock. Then, she’s going to get mad and insist that it’s an innocent story and people that are upset about the film are… (I’m sure you get the picture). We need to be sensitive to how this cultural icon has been an important part of “history” and influential for generations. Find out if/why Gone With The Wind is so important. You’ll probably find that it’s an implied or imprinted reason. Then the opportunity moment comes: validate that the movie has been important in that person’s life, but talk about how it has been troubling to other people. And why it has been troubling. In my personal experience, a lot of well-meaning people who intend no harm just don’t realize why the movie of their good memories is suddenly “under attack.”
Now, admittedly, there is another side to this: what about wanting to look at Gone With The Wind as a historically accurate salute to a bygone era where “cavaliers and ladies took their last bow in a lost civilization”? Some people see Gone With The Wind as a depiction of their heritage and an accurate portrayal of history, and to some extent, that’s what the 1930’s filmmakers intended.
Was the movie historically accurate? Get ready for some mental gymnastics. Yes and no. Two truths and a lie. It’s a very clever way to recreate history and myth in a blend that can be hard to separate without seeming “overly-picky” to the usual movie watcher. And so—strengthened with tradition—it becomes accepted and trusted.
Privately, Margaret Mitchell felt disturbed by some of the liberties Hollywood took with her north Georgia plantation. Mitchell had done meticulous research with the resources available to her in Atlanta and had put forth a solid effort for historical fiction in her novel. Certainly, her views were influenced by her location and the Lost Cause interpretations, but she did not have a white-pillared, happy plantation for Tara. That came in the writing room, back lot of Hollywood, and American imagination.
“Since my novel was published, I have been embarrassed on many occasions by finding myself included among the writers who pictured the Old South as a land of white-columned mansions whose wealthy owners had thousands of slaves and drank thousands of juleps. I have been surprised, too, for North Georgia certainly was no such country – if it ever existed anywhere – and I took great pains to describe North Georgia as it was. But people like to believe what they like to believe and the mythical Old South has too strong a hold on their imaginations to be altered….”
Again, I advocate for discussions. In person, with your circle of acquaintance if possible. Do our friends think Gone With The Wind is accurate history? How? Which parts? Let’s be fair, Rhett Butler might be the one connection for the historic term “blockade runner” that some movie watchers have. Talk about the parts that are based in accurate history. Gently call out with cited sources the mythical parts of the film and story. In my observation, “happy plantations,” Southern belles, and the Reconstruction Era tend to be the most problematic areas.
The concern about racism and inaccurate depictions of the past are real and heavily connected to Gone With The Wind. How can we have constructive and kind conversations with our acquaintances about this classic movie? How can we find out why Gone With The Wind is so important (or so offensive) to some of our friends or family? We need to talk about it. This is an emerging discussion, but it’s also a conversation that needs to move out of the comments section of the blog. The discussion and debate over this movie is happening, really just a continuing of the 80 year discussion. How can we learn and listen to both sides of the arguments and bring our own views to the proverbial table? (With kindness!?)
It’s not going to work by landing a ton of bricks, heated arguments, or heavy history books. But it might work if I listen first, figure out why this movie matters to a person, and then move the conversation from there. Seriously, I’ve be surprised how often the attachment to this movie is actually a long-time crush on Clark Gable…or Vivien Leigh.