The US civil war epic Gone With the Wind has been dropped from HBO Max, the streaming service recently launched by Warner Bros as a rival to Netflix and Disney+, after protests over its depiction of slavery.
The move followed an article in the LA Times by John Ridley, Oscar-winning scriptwriter of 12 Years a Slave, in which he described it as “a film that, when it is not ignoring the horrors of slavery, pauses only to perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color”.
Ridley added: “At a moment when we are all considering what more we can do to fight bigotry and intolerance, 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 demonisation.”
HBO responded with a statement, which said: “These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible.”
The streaming service added that the film would return to the platform accompanied by “a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions”, but would remain unaltered “because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed”.
Released in 1939, Gone With the Wind won eight Oscars (and two honorary awards) and was a commercial hit in the US and elsewhere. However, African American writers and activists immediately objected to its depiction of passive, compliant slaves, and sentimentalised depiction of the south before the civil war. A contemporary review in the Chicago Defender called it a “weapon of terror against black America”, while dramatist and film-maker Carlton Moss wrote in 1940 that it was “a nostalgic plea for sympathy for a still living cause of southern reaction”.
Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar, for best supporting actress for her role as house servant Mammy, but was not allowed to sit with the rest of the cast at the Academy Awards dinner at the Ambassador Hotel, in Los Angeles, which enforced racial segregation until 1959.