A little over two weeks after Gone With the Wind was removed from HBO Max, the movie has returned to the streaming service with a new introduction by film scholar Jacqueline Stewart that calls it, among other things, “a major document of Hollywood’s racist practices of the past.”
As Stewart, who became the first Black host of a Turner Classic Movies showcase last September, points out, Gone With the Wind has generated controversy since the moment its production was announced, enough that producer David O. Selznick had to personally assure the NAACP that he was “sensitive to the feelings of minority peoples.” The winner of eight Oscars, including Hattie McDaniel’s, which was the first given to a Black actor, the movie has an ineradicable place in the history of cinema, but in recent years, as Aisha Harris reported for Slate in 2017, movie theaters have seriously confronted the ethics of screening it for an audience. Some have simply opted not to show it, while others have done so only with introductions and panel discussions that place its nostalgic depiction of the antebellum period in the long tradition of Lost Cause works that soft-pedal the inhumanities of slavery. That goes for TCM as well, whose presenters typically cram several volumes’ worth of history and context into their brief introductions. When Warner Bros. rereleased Gone With the Wind on Blu-ray for its 75th anniversary, they added a new documentary that pointed out its historical and cultural inaccuracies.
But when Gone With the Wind arrived on HBO Max, none of that accumulated archival wisdom made the jump. It was slotted in alongside Citizen Kane and Gremlins as if it were any other movie, and not one of the most prominent and troublesome artifacts in Hollywood history. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, John Ridley, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for 12 Years a Slave, called for the film to be removed, singling it out as a movie that, more than just being outdated in its attitudes, is uniquely pernicious in both its dishonesty and its popularity. “I would ask that all content providers look at their libraries and make a good-faith effort to separate programming that might be lacking in its representation from that which is blatant in its demonization.” One day later, it was gone.
Now it’s back on HBO Max (and was, to be clear, always available to rent and stream on numerous other platforms that didn’t feature it quite so prominently), with Stewart’s introduction and a separately available panel from last year’s TCM Classic Film Festival called “The Complicated Legacy of Gone With the Wind,” which includes Stewart alongside film experts Stephanie Allain, Molly Haskell, and Donald Bogle.
Stewart’s introduction won’t satisfy everyone—its mere existence will anger some, and I’ve already seen people complaining that it takes too long laying out Gone With the Wind’s achievements before it gets to the racism—but if nothing else it establishes the movie as one that needs to be viewed with a critical eye, and not just consumed like so much Confederate popcorn. Unlike the statues that have been pulled down all over the South, this Confederate monument remains standing, but it shouldn’t stand on its own.