‘Gone With the Wind’ Temporarily Removed From HBO Max Over Its ‘Racial Prejudices’
HBO Max launched just two weeks ago — but a lot has happened in those two weeks. With protests against racial injustice and police brutality continuing around the country in the days since the death of George Floyd, we’re beginning to see cable channels and now streaming services adjust their programming to reflect the mood in the country. Cops was canceled by the Paramount Network after more than 30 years on the air, and now, following an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by filmmaker John Ridley, HBO Max has removed one of the most famous titles in its library of movies, Gone With the Wind, over its “ethnic and racial prejudices.”
In a statement provided to Vulture’s Joe Adalian, the streaming service explained the decision:
Gone With the Wind is a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society. 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 film has not been permanently removed; the statement also notes that “when we return the film to HBO Max, it will return with a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions, but will be presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”
Others might disagree, but I think that’s the right decision. Burying the movie, the way that Disney has done with its notorious Song of the South, not only creates the illusion that these racist images never existed in the first place, it also creates an aura around the movie that could make even more people want to seek it out. In the case of Gone With the Wind, it is a significant piece of American cultural history. It won ten Oscars and is still the highest-grossing movie in history when you adjust for inflation. It would be foolish to pretend that never happened.
That said, Gone With the Wind also contains undeniably stereotypical and racist depictions of African Americans. As Ridley wrote in his essay, the film “glorifies the antebellum south” and “when it is not ignoring the horrors of slavery, pauses only to perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color.”
Ridley doesn’t call for the film to be censored. He suggests instead “it could be paired with conversations about narratives and why it’s important to have many voices sharing stories from different perspectives rather than merely those reinforcing the views of the prevailing culture.” That sounds like a very smart suggestion; hopefully one HBO will utilize they bring Gone With the Wind back eventually. That approach would be beneficial to many more older movies on HBO Max. Arguably they should have had this stuff ready before they launched a couple weeks ago, especially since many of these films come from TCM, who has an entire team of hosts, critics, and historians. But better late than never.
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