I'm starting to suspect that Gone With The Wind (1939) might be a little racist.
I have sooooo many mixed feelings about this movie.
Of course it romanticizes and mythologizes The Old South, which... you know, I grew up in Texas, a state that so enjoyed the Civil War that we had the last battle by accident before word got to us that it was all over. People here aren't so enamored with the Civil War era here these days, but I can tell you, there was a time.
To say the least, I personally can't really get behind folks wanting to evoke memories of cotillions where the folks serving the food are doing so under punishment of death should the pigs-in-a-blanket get spilled.
But pointing out that Gone With the Wind is racist and celebrates a culture that maybe died for a reason, and maybe... just maybe... we should see what befell the post-war South as karma reminding folks that she can be a real bitch - all that is shooting fish in a barrel.
The thing to remember is that the movie was not made in the 1860's and 70's. It was made in the late 1930's, within our grandparents' lifetime, and if you want a peek at what was okay to say and think in liberal Hollywood of the time - look no further. Because everyone was on board with this movie (it's still the highest grossing domestic box office of all time, adjusted for inflation), and this was the version that the progressives felt was doing African Americans a solid.
The movie also features gender relations issues that are going to be problematic for your average media-studies undergrad, even while its a movie that puts the strength of women and their ability to thrive under duress at the center of the story (usually just that earns you super double brownie points). It just also happens to revolve around a protagonist who, personally, I find to have some grade-A f'd up priorities and seems to perform both great and terrible deeds in pursuing them.
As much as I'm on board with criticism that takes apart and examines movies (1) I more or less believe in a statute of limitations for applying modern social mores onto older films, or at least feel the need to cry mercy for movies that were not made within recent history, and (2) both narratives and real humans - the thing we often try to emulate in stories - are not punchlists for a media studies class. Just a reminder.
Jamie grew up with the book and movie in a way I did not. It contained no robots, nor cops, nor robot-cops, and so I sort of wasn't all that interested until late in the game, realizing Gone With the Wind is sort of the Citizen Kane of popular movies, so you're sort of obligated, you know? But she did get me to watch it.
The first time I saw the movie, I was a little surprised that it's about a truly reprehensible person, but at least she's got spunk...? I mean, it's a curious movie, as in any other story, Scarlett O'Hara would definitely be on Team James Spader as a rich, good looking but evil girl making our Mary Jane character (Melanie) miserable until Ashley Wilkes sees through her schemes and wants to take Melanie to the prom (preferably while a Psychedelic Furs song played).
But, in recent years, I've really warmed to characters with a bit of complexity. If you're going to be terrible, at least do it in style.
And, there's a lot to admire in Scarlett. She can be good in a bad situation (sometimes with the cool demeanor of a sociopath), and she manages to pull everything together in spite of herself. But it doesn't change the fact that she's a brat and makes no bones about marrying for spite and money, and just truly, epically not giving a shit when either husband is killed (or even her daughter, it seems).
Gone With the Wind is certainly not the first spectacle of a movie. Hollywood had been doing that since the silent age, with movies like Intolerance and even... Birth of a Nation (sigh). But the scale, both in timeline and epic sweep is massive. It's also absolutely visually arresting, in both detailed, massive yet specific scenes (See: anything in Atlanta) and then technicolor painterly canvases bleeding the wide-open skies of Tara.
There's a scope and magnitude to the story, and I have so many questions less for Margaret Mitchell, who I do think believed in the lost camelot ideal of the Antebellum south, but more for both the producer David O. Selznick, and what he was trying to say about what befell the South. Was he trying to recreate the South of myth, did he feel he was showing the natural path of history in the South? Did he see the fates of Tara and Twelve Oaks as a tragedy or an inevitability?
I don't know. I know the movie has provided the imagination of many of us with a false idea of the past, of an idyllic south that maybe the youthful exuberance that led to an ill-thought war - one that had been brewing since the Constitutional Convention. There's no reflection as to how The South fell, and Sherman is nothing but a title card and billows of flame. Fair enough. But the colossal moral failing of the South, not to mention the hubris of same, gets mostly swept under the rug and no one ever sees it as much other than a glorious lost cause (and if the monuments you grow up around in Southern states are any indication, that may not be all that inaccurate), that the Yankees did something to the South, that neither the karmic wheel could turn nor had the possibility of the consequences of defeat ever been really pondered.
I am squarely outside the demographic for Gone With the Wind, I think. Maybe. But it's certainly worth noting that the audience, to the tune of massively successful box office, has found something to admire in Scarlett, and that's fascinating. I don't even know what to do with that information, and it's not something you see discussed a whole lot. People immediately go to the amazing sets and costumes and directing, etc... but people rarely talk about how weirdly broken Scarlett is as a traditional heroine. Even in other books about characters surviving years of abuse (see: the interminable Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Or, better yet, don't.), the lead is just buffeted around by evil people and misfortune. Scarlett makes her own trouble, and often seems a candidate for a Springer appearance ("She's in Love With My Man!" or "My Wife Married Me For $300"). I dunno. You explain it to me.