Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
Gone With the Wind: Let's Stop Being Blind
Gone with the Wind is a 1939 historical romance film based on the book of the same name by Margaret Mitchell. It stars Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable in the lead roles. It's probably one of my favorite films of all time . . .
And it's racist.
I've wanted to write about Gone with the Wind and its controversy for a long time. I just didn't feel like dealing with the droves of people who always crawl out of the woodworks to defend the film as "not racist" in long and impassioned (see: ridiculous) rants against people who are just telling the truth.
But the reality is, Gone with the Wind is racist.
Anyone with a lick of common sense can see it. The problem is that—just like the racist slaveowners in the film—people just don't want to see it.
The Story Behind Gone With the Wind
I read the book when I was young and fell in love with both it and the film. As a result, I did some background reading on how the book came to be. Turns out Margaret Mitchell grew up in the South, listening to racist and bitter ex-slaveowners wax nostalgic about chattel slavery. They insisted that life was better when black people were slaves, that black people liked being slaves, and the North was evil for bringing an end to it.
These were delusional, racist old men who passed down their delusions to a very young Margaret Mitchell, who in turn wrote a book about black slaves who loved their masters and loved serving them.
Scarlet is frequently heard to say "We didn't treat them that way!" as if chattel slavery were not a brutal, inhumane thing. Depicting slavery as anything less than what it was is an insult to me and my ancestors. It's an insult to me as a black woman because I have to live with the repercussions of it, and it's an insult to my ancestors because they had to endure being treated like beasts.
I'm not saying that every slave film needs to show graphic depictions of black people being brutalized. The series Roots showed the true horrors of slavery without turning the pain of black Americans into rape p***. It was done well.
I'm also not saying that Gone with the Wind should be banned. In fact, I quite like watching it! I just want people to stop pretending and acknowledge it for what it is: a racist film.
Apparently, Margaret Mitchell completely bought into the racist, delusional stories these older Southerners told her. But anyone who read Fredrick Douglas' work -- you know, a testament from an actual slave -- would know that black slaves were treated abhorrently.
In his autobiography, Douglas describes wearing a burlap sack for clothing, having no shoes, and eating out of a pig trough like a beast. The slaves were also given no beds or sheets and had to sleep on the ground, freezing every winter. If they complained, they were whipped -- sometimes to death. If they were smart, they were killed.
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In other words, slaves had to pretend to be stupid, and they had to pretend to enjoy slavery or else they would be killed. Down through the generations, white slaveowners were raised believing that slaves were dumb, childlike inferiors who were better off slaves -- who even enjoyed it. In other words, these slaveowners eventually believed the act.
People will believe anything if it absolves them of wrongdoing.
One thing I love about Anne Rice's book The Feast of All Saints is that she doesn't depict the African slaves as jolly sycophants who worship white people, are stupid, and enjoy being whipped, raped, killed, and sold away from their families. Quite the contrary -- Anne Rice showed the slaves as intelligent and resourceful survivors who pretended to happily serve while sneering behind their masters' backs.
Rice had a better (see: non-racist) grasp of the realities of slavery, but then . . . she wasn't raised by delusional old racists the way Mitchell was.
For us to acknowledge the true evils of slavery, however, we have to acknowledge that it was wrong. Chattel slavery is not the same as the indentured servitude happening in Africa -- and I'm saying this for the racists who love making false equivalences in order to absolve their ancestors of guilt, vilify my ancestors, and justify slavery.
Yeah. Because good, upstanding people justify slavery.
If you come on this article trying to defend Gone with the Wind as "not racist," I know everything I need to know about you.
So with all that being said -- Yes, Gone with the Wind was racist.
I can fully acknowledge that, even though I love the book and own the film on DVD. Regardless of the unfortunate influences Mitchell had as a girl, the story is highly entertaining. Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler lead a fascinating, whirlwind romance that is hilarious, heartwarming, tragic -- and also based on Mitchell's real-life romance between two different men.
Scarlett and Rhett themselves are fascinating characters. There's nothing wrong with indulging in that. But can we please stop throwing tantrums every time someone mentions that the film is racist? It is.
It is also possible to honestly criticize the things we love and still enjoy them. This film hurts black people because of the nonsense it reinforces, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy it in the privacy of our own homes.
If Hollywood had any decency, they would not re-release this film to the masses, teaching another entire generation that black people "liked" being slaves and "enjoyed" serving their masters. But Hollywood is literally built on peodphilia, sex trafficking, and Satanism so . . . I'm not surprised they want to push a film that alters people's subconscious to see my entire race as inferior.
It's okay to look at this film so long as you can recognize it for what it is and not walk away harboring racist beliefs. Sadly, most people just can't do that. And that's why people are outraged about the re-release of the film. We are not yet at a place where people are smart enough to think critically about the media they consume, let alone not throw tantrums when others do.
To be honest, I would rather watch Gone with the Wind than the other racist slave-era films that depict my people's pain and torture like some kind of rape p***. In that sense, I suppose you could say Gone with the Wind was the lesser of two evils.
As much as I love it, Gone with the Wind is a racist film. That's the truth. And if you don't like it?
Well, my dear. I just don't give a damn.
So I recently discovered that Gone with the Wind was removed from streaming services. Lol. I actually don't agree with that.
When I wrote this article, i was thinking from the mindset of someone who collects DVDs. I didn't feel DVDs of the movie should be distributed just because some of the film's underlying messages were detrimental to black people.
A couple years later, however, I feel a lot differently. For one, watching Amazon figuratively "burn books" has opened my eyes to the value of free speech. We are living in a time of Cancel Culture, where people aren't allowed to make mistakes, be human, learn and grow. Also, the fact that anyone can be silenced for "Wrong Think" means that certain ideologies can never be challenged.
We are living a time that is anti-intellectual, anti-free thought, anti-free speech. You can't post your political beliefs on Instagram without getting fired, and it's wrong. And yet, the dark cloud of fascism ever looms over our heads.
So given all this, I say, Gone with the Wind shouldn't been figuratively "burned" even though, yes, it is racist. It captures a moment in time where humans were not at their best and it presents something that can be examined and learned from.
There are always going to be racists and sexists and homophobes because there are always going to be people who are irrational, illogical, and lack critical thinking skills.
Obliterating "offensive" material from the universe isn't going to change that.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2019 Lee