The film will return, a spokesperson said, with “a discussion of its historical context” and denunciation of its racially charged aspects. The movie itself won’t be altered.
The announcement followed a Los Angeles Times oped by filmmaker John Ridley, who noted that the film “glorifies the antebellum south” and perpetuates “some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color.”
Seeking to contextualize old films is not a new issue for WarnerMedia. The company’s stable of cable networks includes Turner Classic Movies, which presents such films with hosts who introduce and discuss them.
The specific debate over “Gone with the Wind” is hardly a new one either, but as HBO Max noted, it comes at a moment when the United States is again grappling with its history on the subject of race — and how those attitudes filtered through the culture and entertainment of the times. Notably, the new Netflix series “Hollywood” zeroes in on that topic, with McDaniel — who was segregated from her white co-stars at the Academy Awards — featured as a minor character within the fictionalized retelling.
The questions surrounding “Gone with the Wind” actually predated the film. Debate immediately ensued over the 1936 publication of Mitchell’s novel, with its nostalgia for plantation life, portrayal of happy slaves and threatening freed blacks, and sympathy toward the Confederate cause.
As the Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg noted, even McDaniel’s award-winning performance “couldn’t wholly transcend the trope of a loyal slave who rejects freedom and prefers to serve her former owners.”
The discussion of what to do with movies like “Gone with the Wind” arose again in 2017, when a theater in Memphis, Tenn., opted to drop it from a screening series after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.
That process can be messy, and it inevitably invites criticism — especially from conservatives eager to portray Hollywood liberals as bowing to calls for censorship. Accused of insensitivity in the past, it’s possible to engage in what can look like overreactions in the present.
But there’s a difference between context and censorship. If the best answer to potentially offensive speech or art is more speech or art, facilitating a broader conversation about a classic like “Gone with the Wind” — which is a far cry from sweeping it away — represents a reasonable solution.