It is considered one of the most influential (and certainly one of the most watched) films of all time. However, HBO Max has pulled “Gone with the Wind” from its library of films because of its depiction of slavery and racism. HBO says that it will not allow people to watch the film until it can create “an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions.” In other words, people will have to wait until they can be properly educated with the addition of a warning and introduction. “After all”, as Scarlett O’Hara said in the film, “tomorrow is another day!”
This appears in response to John Ridley, who wrote the Academy Award-winning “12 Years a Slave,” In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times this week Ridley asked HBO Max to remove the film because it “glorifies the antebellum south.” Ridley insisted however “Let me be real clear: I don’t believe in censorship.” He then called for private censorship to prevent others from seeing the film.
Ridley says that allowing people to see the film, particularly without “a warning,” is unacceptable in these times. He notes that this may seem a big deal “But it’s not nearly as big a demand as when your children ask whether they can join protests in the streets against racial intolerance, or when they come to you wanting to know what you did to make the world a better place.”
I have no problem with the inclusion of discussions or introductions for such films so long as people have the ability to choose whether they want to watch such discussion. Indeed, I would personally be interested in watching such a discussion. The film does not disturbing imagery and messaging. When we watched the film years ago, we discussed those issues with my kids. However, pulling a film like “Gone With The Wind” until that time is troubling given the other moves that we are seeing around the world, as discussed below.
The question is whether removing art and literature “makes the world a better place” or just a quieter place. Ridley is saying that, because he does not want to see the film anymore, he does not want anyone (even paying subscribers to HBO) to see the film. It is a too common approach today as advocates seek to silence others rather than voice their own views — or in Ridley’s case, make extraordinary movies in his own right. These films are part of our history and culture, for better or worse. Art often reflects prejudice or bias or even hate in ways both subtle and gross. Censorship simply buries (selectively) the art that the majority deems objectionable.
HBO declared the film “a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society.” That is correct. It is called a period piece. It is part of our culture that exposes the best and worst of the times. As is common in today’s environment, those who are critical of the film are not satisfied with writing opinion pieces in the L.A. Times but rather do not want to let others make up their own minds.
This approach to art would lead to the removal of a wide array of paintings, books, and films that depict periods of slavery or oppression.
Films are not the only things being pulled from public view. In London, various statues were defaced in anti-racism protests, including incongruously the statue of Abraham Lincoln. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was setting up a Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm to remove statues and replace them for better “representation of people of color, black people, women, those from the LGBT community.” First order is to remove statues and monuments of slave owners. They might want to start with Hadrian’s Wall built by the Romans with slave labor.
This is not new to the United States. For years, there have been demands to remove statues from Columbus to Jefferson. Previously, Angela Rye who is a regular analysis on NPR and CNN called for the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial to be torn down, stating “To me, I don’t care if it’s a George Washington statue or Thomas Jefferson, they all need to come down.”
Back to HBO, there are a host of classic films that captures early and painful periods. People like Ridley and the executives at HBO studied the film now want to stop others from doing so until they are ready. As for all those who want to make up their own minds, HBO is channeling pure Rhett Butler and saying “Frankly darling, [we] don’t give a damn.”