‘Gone With the Wind’ is also a Confederate Monument, but on Film instead of StoneRoundup
tags: film, racism, Confederacy, popular culture
Nina Silber is Professor of History and American Studies at Boston University and the author of This War Ain’t Over: Fighting the Civil War in New Deal America.
Like any historical artifact, “Gone With the Wind” is, indeed, a “product of its time,” but it would be misguided to imagine that David Selznick’s blockbuster did not, in its own time, provoke considerable controversy. More than a Hollywood spectacle, the film amplified a racist political message that intertwined ideas about the antebellum South into the New Deal politics of its day, making its message even more potent, dangerous and enduring.
The story of the “Gone With the Wind” movie begins, of course, with the novel that inspired it. Published in 1936, Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling book offered a classic “Lost Cause” tale of crushed but resilient white Southerners, devoted black slaves and evil-minded Yankees. It traded heavily in racist descriptions and plot lines, from the “black apes” committing “outrages on women” to Mitchell’s reference to the character Mammy, her face “puckered in the sad bewilderment of an old ape.”
Ku Kluxers are the book’s heroes, helping restore order in the wake of racial chaos.
Mitchell’s novel, said critic George Schuyler, writing in the NAACP’s Crisis magazine, “spurts the familiar southern white venom against Negroes and Yankees” while promoting the “old moss-grown falsehood” about the sexual threat black men posed to white women. In the end, Schuyler said, the book presents “an effective argument against according the Negro his citizenship rights and privileges and sings Hallelujah for white supremacy.”
A Pittsburgh civil rights group told producer David Selznick that Mitchell’s book was “a glorification of the old rotten system of slavery, propaganda for race-hatreds and bigotry, and incitement of lynching.” And a black newspaper in Los Angeles directly connected the film to the contemporaneous racial hatred happening in Nazi Germany with the headline, “Hollywood Goes Hitler One Better.”
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