Avengers: Endgame became the top-grossing film of all-time this summer. However, if adjusted for current inflation, 1939’s Gone with the Wind would still be at the top of the list. Depending upon who you ask, Gone with the Wind (GwtW) is either one of the best American films of all-time or one of the worst. Those proclaiming it one of the worst, point to the derogatory, racist language and caricature portrayals of slaves like Mammy and Prissy. Despite proclamations that GwtW is racist, it is not. (And not just because racism is a human trait and a film is not a person.)
GwtW, a highly anticipated film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel of the same name, was the first color film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The MGM Technicolor matched with the sweeping narrative of Civil War Atlanta makes for a grand spectacle that still sweeps audiences up in the romance of Rhett and Scarlett, 80 years later. From Victor Fleming’s expert direction to the Oscar-winning performances by Leigh and McDaniel, GwtW proves that albeit a document of a difficult time in our nation’s history, its representation of the time is appropriate and compelling.
It’s difficult to write about a film so entrenched in our cultural milieu. Like it’s fellow 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, how do you describe something so well known? Do I quote here Rhett’s famous “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” or Scarlett’s “Fiddly dee”? Prissy’s meltdown during Melanie’s childbirth? The inexplicable love Scarlett has for Ashley? Perhaps, this is more indicative of my appreciation for the film and the numerous times I’ve seen it. Instead, I believe it’s firm place in our culture is because of its quality, not its shortcomings.
Gone with the Wind (1939) 220 minutes. Directed by Victor Fleming. Starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Hattie McDaniel, Olivia de Havilland.