Gone With the Wind (1939)

I’m back with movie reviews this week, and what a movie to make a return with. Four hours of racism, misogyny, more racism, and one of the worst female characters ever to grace the big screen!

Plot: It is April 1861 and life is oh so good for Scarlett O’Hara. All the boys love her, including Ashley Wilkes, but when Scarlett finds out Ashley plans to propose to Melanie Hamilton, Scarlett is incensed that Ashley chose someone other than herself. While the film takes us through the Civil War and Reconstruction, the core plot is really about Scarlett’s inability to let go of the one thing she couldn’t have–even though she married three times (once for spite, once for money, once for love…I think). It’s not until the end of the film that she realizes what a waste her life has been, pining for Ashley, and Scarlett is utterly alone. Her sisters hate her, her parents are dead, her daughter is dead, the only person to be a friend to her is also dead, and her estranged husband leaves her for good. Yet somehow the film has an air of hope at the end.

Best Moment(s): While I find plenty about this film to be problematic, it really is a visually beautiful film to watch. The color had to be stunning to audiences used to mostly black and white films, the score is lush, the costumes almost made me long for late 19th-century fashion to make a comeback. The script itself is decent, but it’s Rhett Butler’s lines that zing nearly every time he opens his mouth. About halfway through the film, I realized the only lines I’d jotted down came from Rhett.

Worst Moment(s): It’s so tough to choose just one here. Is it the villainizing of the North, every time an insert title appeared on screen? Is it Rhett’s implied rape of Scarlett near the end of the film? Is it every single time Scarlett opens her mouth and reveals how truly awful she is? Is it the constant racism, and the appearance of longing for a return to slavery in the opening title? Pick one. It’s bad.

Here’s some alternate titles I thought of:

“Gone With the Wind”
or
“Scarlett O’Hara is the Worst…But Also Not The Worst”
or
“Co-dependent Relationships: A Cautionary Tale”
or
“If The War Won’t Kill You, The Fallout Will”

Rhett Butler’s Best Lines: While “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” is so cemented in our consciousness, people who’ve never seen the movie quote it, Rhett has some amazing lines. Here’s some of my favorites.

  1. With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.
  2. You should be kissed and often and by someone who knows how.
  3. Mr. Wilkes, who is mentally unfaithful to his wife, but can’t bring himself to be technically unfaithful.
  4. In response to Scarlett finally declaring she loves him, he responds, “Well that’s your misfortune.”

Fun Fact: Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy in the film, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress that year. The awards ceremony was held in a segregated hotel, and she was not allowed to sit with her castmates for the ceremony. Here’s her acceptance speech:


 

Recommendation: Truly, this is a must-see when it comes to American cinema. I would hope that audiences today would be quite discomfited by the sympathetic portrayal of the South–and that’s something we should all sit with a bit.

For some context, check out this timeline of when Confederate monuments were built. D.W. Griffith’s ode to the South, slavery, and racism “Birth of a Nation” had debuted just 24 years earlier. Take a look at that timeline again. Notice when the biggest surge was in building Confederate monuments. And just 24 years later, we get “Gone With the Wind.”

I know, I know–correlation is not causation. But the media we consume does, in part, construct our world view. My hope is that 2018 viewers of “Gone With The Wind” see just how problematic it is, and are moved to do whatever they can to end racism and injustice in their little corner of the world.

I checked the Googles, and I’m not alone in finding the film problematic. Here’s some additional reading about this film and grappling with its place in our collective history.

From the L.A. Times

From Vulture

 

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