Gone with the Wind has returned to HBO Max, along with two new videos that discuss the historical context and racial stereotypes of the 1939 Civil War epic. The film was removed from the streaming service earlier this month after an opinion piece written by John Ridley, screenwriter for 12 Years a Slave, argued that it romanticized the horrors of slavery.
The film doesn’t just “fall short” in its depictions of Black people, wrote Ridley; it glorifies myths about the Antebellum South. “It is 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.”
“These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.”
WarnerMedia agreed with the criticism and removed the film, saying in a statement: “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.” It promised to return it to the service later alongside additional context.
The videos that have now been added include a 4.5-minute intro segment that automatically plays if you select the film (but it can be skipped) and an hour-long panel discussion filmed at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2019 and titled “The Complicated Legacy of ‘Gone With the Wind.’” This can be played separately.
As reported by Variety, the intro is hosted by Black film scholar Jacqueline Stewart, who describes Gone with the Wind as “one of most enduringly popular films of all time.” Stewart notes that it portrays “the Antebellum South as a world of grace and beauty without acknowledging the brutalities of the system of chattel slavery upon which this world is based.”
Stewart says the movie was protested before it even premiered and that its producer, David O. Selznick, “was well aware that Black audiences were deeply concerned about the film’s handling of the topic of slavery and its treatment of Black characters.”
The film depicts enslaved Black people as racial stereotypes, says Stewart: “servants notable for their devotion to their white masters or for their ineptitude.” These characters include Mammy, a house servant played by Hattie McDaniel, who became the first Black person to win an Oscar but was not allowed to sit with the cast during the awards due to racial segregation.
“It is important that classic Hollywood films are available to us in their original form.“
Stewart says the film’s “treatment of this world through a lens of nostalgia denies the horrors of slavery, as well as its legacies of racial inequality” but argues it should still be accessible to viewers. “Watching ‘Gone With the Wind’ can be uncomfortable, even painful,” she says. “Still, it is important that classic Hollywood films are available to us in their original form for viewing and discussion.”
HBO Max is not alone in adding such disclaimers to certain films and TV shows. The 1941 cartoon Dumbo on Disney Plus, for example, includes the disclaimer: “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”
Similarly, Tom and Jerry cartoons released by Warner Home Video that are available on streaming services like Amazon carry the more explicit warning that the cartoons “depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society,” but that to censor them “would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”