Following a scathing opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times by 12 Years a Slave writer John Ridley in which he called for the removal of Gone with the Wind from HBO Max, WarnerMedia has done just that — but only temporarily.
In Ridley’s op-ed, he argued that Gone with the Wind doesn’t just “fall short” when it comes to representation, but it’s 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.” A WarnerMedia representative confirmed to The Verge that Gone with the Wind will return to the streaming service with proper contextual messaging for some of the scenes and themes portrayed in the film.
“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,” a WarnerMedia spokesperson tells The Verge. “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 statement continues: “These depictions are certainly counter to WarnerMedia’s values, so 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.”
Like Disney Plus, HBO Max includes a number of older movies that Warner Bros. produced over the last century. A good number of those movies are representative of the eras in which they were produced and benefit from additional messaging that provides context for some of the themes and imagery in the films. Sarah Lyons, senior vice president of product experience for WarnerMedia’s direct-to-consumer division, told The Verge prior to HBO Max’s launch that when it comes to older content, “we will have more messaging, including for parents, on that content including what it might contain.”
“It’s clear upfront that there may be some of those themes in it,” Lyons said, adding the goal is to “try to notify them as much as possible.”
WarnerMedia has attached strong messages to its products that include racist or otherwise offensive imagery and language. Warner Bros.’ popular cartoon series from the 1940s, Tom and Jerry, came with a disclaimer about the context of certain scenes when the show was released on DVD by Warner Home Video. That message was then carried over to Amazon Prime Instant and iTunes in 2014 when episodes were made available digitally.
Since HBO Max’s catalog includes a number of films that contain outdated themes, having disclaimers present is more imperative than ever. Take Dumbo on Disney Plus, which includes a warning that reads, “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”
There are also movies that executives have decided shouldn’t be available to stream. Song of the South, one of Disney’s most controversial films set on a plantation in Georgia after the Civil War, has faced criticism for decades over its overtly racist depiction of black people. Executive chairman Bob Iger told a shareholder at the company’s annual shareholders meeting in March that Song of the South would not appear on Disney Plus even with additional messaging, adding that it was “not appropriate in today’s world.”
WarnerMedia isn’t entirely removing Gone with the Wind. It seems like WarnerMedia’s HBO Max team was working on the additional context feature prior to the service’s launch. But in light of events these last few weeks, which include widespread protests of police brutality and racism following the killing of George Floyd, Gone with the Wind is getting fast-tracked.
Going forward, WarnerMedia could bring back Turner Classic Movie intros from hosts that can provide more historical context about what they’re watching. It’s unclear whether the company will go that route, but disclaimers on films with outdated themes and racist ideologies are a good start.