I’ve read Gone with the Wind (GWTW) three times, all 418,053 words, or 1,037 pages of it. I saw the four-hour movie for the first time when I was nine years old. Since then I’ve seen it in American theaters, in a student dormitory in Poland during the fall of communism, and on home screens. I last watched it with my sister five years ago as she lay in bed dying of a brain tumor.
If I meet someone who is a GWTW fan, I like that person more. Such people are not hard to find. The book won the Pulitzer Prize, and it has sold an estimated thirty million copies. In a 2014 Harris Poll, Americans named GWTW their second favorite book, after the Bible. An Amazon review posted on July 6, 2020, 84 years after it was published, begins, “This novel is beyond belief excellent and after 1000 pages this reader wants more.” People are still urgently asking the book’s inevitable question. In 2019, Quora readers needed to know, “Does Scarlett get Rhett back?” Wikipedia claims that GWTW “became the highest-earning film made up to that point, and held the record for over a quarter of a century. When adjusted for monetary inflation, it is still the highest-grossing film in history.”
Do I confess my love for GWTW because I have a death wish? America is undergoing a cultural revolution. GWTW is in the censor’s sites. John Ridley, screenwriter of Twelve Years a Slave, demanded that HBO shelve GWTW. Within days, HBO did just that. The New York Times, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Aljazeera, Queen Latifah, Trevor Noah, The Young Turks, and The View have all debated whether or not people should be allowed to watch GWTW. Bollywood News is one of many overseas publications weighing in. “Narratives have helped ingrain, romanticize and condone discriminatory behaviour,” argued Ruchi Narain. Shekhar Kapur countered, “Can we erase Aurangzeb from our history just by changing the name of a road? Can the US change its history of slavery by erasing a film from HBO?” “A work of creative art supersedes issues of morality,” concluded Pritish Nandy.
Would that our betters would debate, with equal intensity, whether or not filthy, violent, misogynist, and exploitative rap lyrics should be allowed. But who am I to demand integrity from the exalted personages staffing the Revolutionary Council at the Bureau of Banned Art.
In recent days, Black Lives Matter activists have defaced statues, including one to Miguel de Cervantes, often praised as “the inventor of the modern novel.” Cervantes was also the actual slave of a Muslim slaver. BLM activists spray painted the word “Bastard” across Cervantes’ statue, and spray painted his eyes red. They also spray painted red gun sights on the backs of Cervantes’ fictional creations, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. We live in an era when fictional characters are slated for assassination.
BLM activists have physically assaulted Catholics praying near the statue of St. Louis, and an LA BLM protest involved so much damage to Jewish property that it “became a pogrom.” Wouldn’t it be so much more noble for me to be sent to the re-education camp for my religious beliefs rather than for my tastes in novels? No. If off to the rice paddies I must go, I will go for GWTW.
GWTW, both book and film, are accused of being racist. Here’s the deal: this accusation is 100% accurate. Gone with the Wind is the most racist novel I’ve ever read. Its racism is not incidental or subtle; rather, it’s central, cruel, and unforgiveable. Why, then, am I ready to go to the mat for racist art? The answer, like life itself, is long and complicated. As Louis Adamic once wrote, “Life is like licking honey off of a thorn.”
It is in that very complication that the personal – my taste in novels – becomes political. People draw various lines between “us” and “them.” For some, conservatives are the good guys; leftists, the bad guys. For others, it’s my country v. other countries. Those lines don’t work for me. Here is a line that works: I am utterly opposed to those who demand that art be pure. I believe that those who would assassinate fictional characters would happily arrange living enemies before a firing squad. I insist on my right to commit thought crimes.
For those who have not read the book, here is a plot summary. Scarlett O’Hara, the belle of her county, is the daughter of a Georgia plantation owner. She’s in love with Ashley Wilkes, the heir apparent of a neighboring plantation. Life is perfect, till the Civil War. Scarlett loses everything. Ashley marries his cousin, Melanie Hamilton. After burying two husbands, Scarlett marries, but does not love, Rhett Butler. In the end, he leaves her.
GWTW, like Genesis, depicts the universal, timeless human experience of exile from Eden. We all grow up, we are all disillusioned of childhood fantasies, and we all come to recognize how harsh the world can be. GWTW contrasts how humans react. Scarlett and Rhett are amoral, Darwinian animals. They claw their way up from ruin and end up rich and powerful, but their souls are scorched earth. Ashley and Melanie are poetry-lovers, too good for tooth-and-claw. They are nice people, but they needed Scarlett to put a roof over their heads and food on their plates.
I saw GWTW for the first time in the Colonial Theater in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. I was with my mom, my sister, and family friend Mrs. Manning. My mother and her peers survived the Depression and World War II and, being working class immigrants, they had lived through more, including one family lynching of an immigrant relative, the deaths of several children before their parents, overwork in coal mines, Paterson’s dye vats, and our own town’s factories that coated their sons who worked there with silver dust. Many of those sons would die young of cancer.
My strongest memory of this first viewing of the film was the car ride home. I can feel myself in that claustrophobic space where parental control was most palpably oppressive. In those days, the windows were always rolled up, because the outside world was scary. Every adult was smoking. You did not question your parents, even as you suffocated on their carcinogenic fumes.
From the back seat, I said, “That Scarlett was so mean! She did so many bad things! I hate her.”
The two friends up front looked at each other as if they shared some deep truth that must not be spelled out, lest it crush me. Even now, decades later, I can feel the weight of Mrs. Manning’s and my mother’s nods, so heavy, so ancient. They were both in their early forties, practically as old as the earth itself.
“Wait till you get older,” one or both of them said. “You will understand Scarlett, and why she had to do what she did.”
I was as horrified at that moment as I was when I first discovered droplets of blood on my older sister’s undergarments. Life was rank with scary mysteries I could not reach, any more than I could reach the top shelf. Were these women, who defined my reality, suggesting that they, who attended Catholic mass weekly if not daily, had committed crimes equal to Scarlett’s? Flirted with men they didn’t love just to get a better price on washing machine repair? Been so hungry that they had to eat a dirty carrot – wait. I already knew that they did that. I could taste the meals of rancid, government-issued “surplus food” we had to eat when my mother’s pay as a cleaning woman was not enough to feed all nine of us. I already knew from experience that they could sew clothes from old curtains. My God. My mother was Scarlett O’Hara!!! I shrank back into silence, and waited till the car door opened, and I could escape, and exhale.
I vowed never to be like Scarlett O’Hara. It was a vow I would, of course, break. In time, I would come to kill my own Yankee soldiers, because Mrs. Manning and my mother were right.
I remember three other things about that first viewing of the film. Nowadays, there are allegedly dozens of genders. I am the sole inhabitant of this gender: I was repulsed by glorified lounge lizard Rhett Butler. I loved Ashley Wilkes. Ashley, who loved poetry and honor. Ashley, who fought for the South though he planned to free his slaves. Ashley who, after the war, retreated from reality and surrendered to the opiate-allure of nostalgia. Women love bad boys. Nice guys can’t catch a break. The ladies all choose Rhett. Not I.
Scarlett is almost devoid of any fellow-feeling, including for her own children, but it’s clear that she adores her selfless and aristocratic mother. Scarlett flees from Sherman’s advance on Atlanta and returns to Tara. She runs toward the house, crying, “Mother, I’m home.” Vivien Leigh, at 25 years old, is such a virtuosic actress that she can convince the audience that she’d butcher, cook and eat a Union soldier. In this scene, she is equally convincing as a little girl crying out for Mommy.
The soundtrack veers from exultation to dread. A drum thuds out the sound of a heartbeat. Scarlett enters a room and there, eerie and green-skinned, is her mother’s corpse. The drumbeat abruptly gives way to Scarlett’s scream. I don’t think anything I’ve ever seen on film has ever hit me harder.
My final memory was even more terrifying. During the war, Scarlett, experiencing hunger and terror for the first time in her life, develops a persistent nightmare. She is running through blinding mist, trying desperately to grasp – something. She doesn’t know what the mist is, and she doesn’t know what she’s trying to reach. The mist always swallows her up.
I may have been nine years old, but, on a visceral level, in my atavistic chakra, where all my Slavic ancestors bemoaned their countless invasions and genocides, I grokked that dream completely. The mist was, of course, life itself. The desideratum Scarlett chased in a frenzy was all the good things we try to place between ourselves and death: love, accomplishment, relationships, material possessions, security, meaning. Eventually, life will strip everything from every one of us. If you are tough, like Scarlett, you can claw the goodies back, but only temporarily, and you lose your soul in the process. If you are good, like Melanie, you live like a church mouse, and die young, but admired.
My older sister Antoinette read the book. I always inherited her hand-me-downs, so I read the book, too. I took Melanie as a role model, one I have never lived up to.
My overwhelming reaction to the book was to wish that I could write prose as compelling as Mitchell’s. I had read many other books that never impregnated me with the sense of lived experience that GWTW did. This wasn’t just true of world-famous set pieces, like Rhett carrying a struggling Scarlett up a staircase to her orgasmic apotheosis, or his subsequently leaving her with the words, “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” The vividness of Mitchell’s prose was most striking in unimportant scenes.
Scarlett is escaping marauding Yankees. She’s on a purloined wagon dragged by a pitiable horse she eventually whips to death. She wakes one morning from sleeping on bare boards. She’s racked by thirst; the sun beats down on her dirt-smudged face. I felt the wagon’s boards against my back; my throat parched. It’s a throwaway scene. The book would not be changed by its removal. And yet it came alive in my mind as I read it.
Mitchell knew her every character intimately. If I ran into any of them on the street today I would know exactly who they are, no matter how small a role they played: Mrs. Meade, Archie, Uncle Peter. A ten-year-old literary critic was born. I asked, “What is this author doing that she can make me feel, and compel me to turn pages, and read past my bedtime with a flashlight under the covers?”
If someone had told me, over the next fifteen years of my life, that GWTW was a menace to society because of its racism, I would have responded, “Huh?”
My obliviousness may sound strange to anyone who, unlike me, has never led a classroom discussion on a work of art. Everyone sees through blinders. People see not at all what their betters think they should see. Misogyny, antisemitism, and racism can go right over a viewer’s head, if that viewer is focused on a character they’ve fallen in love with, or a plot point that grabs them.
Female audiences often imagine an otherwise non-existent romantic relationship. See the reams of fan fiction exploring the “sexual tension” between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, or FBI agent Clarice Starling and serial killer Hannibal Lecter. Male students are, often, just about oblivious to any female character who isn’t overtly sexualized, and if they can find a way to sexualize female characters, they do. Amy Adams plays a squeaky-clean version of Amelia Earhart in the child-friendly movie Night at the Museum: Battle at the Smithsonian. Still, half the threads on the old IMDB discussion board were X-rated encomiums to Amy Adams’ derriere as seen in her tight, flesh-colored jodhpurs. Under one video compilation saluting Amy Adams’ assets, a viewer wrote, “i’ve seen night at the museum 2 about 10 times. I have no idea what its about.” The actress called the film “An Amy Adams butt show.”
Like Night at the Museum viewers, I was too focused on GWTW‘s plot, and its writing, to pay attention to the racism, which my mind skipped over.
I read GWTW for the second time by candlelight, on a bed made of raw lumber planks and thin cotton batting. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Himalayas. By that time in my life I had attended Twelve Step meetings, to deal with issues arising from growing up in a home where both fists and alcohol were overused. Twelve Step deprograms codependents. It quashes vocabulary that romanticizes sick behavior, and replaces it with clinical terms. Dad was not a “poet … too good for this world;” he was an “alcoholic.” Your girlfriend is not “intriguingly unpredictable;” she has “bipolar disorder.”
In this Twelve-Step-inspired reading, I realized that Scarlett and Rhett are psychologically unbalanced. They do everything they can to sabotage their relationship. This, to me, was suddenly not a romantic tragedy, but a case for therapeutic, and perhaps pharmaceutical, intervention. I wasn’t alone. In a 2011 blog post, professional therapist Jeannie Campbell outlines why she diagnoses Scarlett as suffering from histrionic personality disorder. Dr. Barton Goldsmith, in a 2020 Psychology Today piece, calls Scarlett and Rhett “the poster children for dysfunctional couples.”
In that second reading, I realized something else. GWTW is a racist book. Mitchell romanticizes the Klan and insults her black characters. In spite of all this, I could not help but think, man, this is one hell of a read. The pages are propulsive and pushed me forward. I thought, you could take an X-Acto knife, and slice out the racist garbage, and be left with a book deserving of the title, “Great American Novel.”
My big sister Antoinette succumbed to a brain tumor in 2015. I had spent my life stepping into footsteps that she had trod first. I inherited her clothes, her toys, and her books. After she died, I decided it was time. I read GWTW again. I read it in the autumn, under a feather quilt she had lent me during a previous cold snap. Once she got her diagnosis, I realized I’d never have to return it.
On this third read, I loved Ashley, again. I wished, in vain, to be as good as Melanie, again. I was repulsed by Rhett and aghast at Scarlett. None of this was new. My mind had time to realize: this book is racist, and you could never snip out its racism with an X-Acto knife.
The straw that broke the camel’s back came close to the end. Mammy has loved and nurtured the family for three generations. After Bonnie, Scarlett’s child, dies in an accident, Mitchell writes that Mammy’s “face was puckered in the sad bewilderment of an old ape.” I hated Margaret Mitchell. She betrayed Mammy. I threw the book across the room. I would not allow myself to be defiled by any connection to it. I ranted on Facebook.
A Facebook friend educated me about Mitchell’s philanthropy. I suddenly felt ashamed. Mitchell had done things for black people that I could never come close to doing, yet I was setting myself up as her judge, jury, and executioner.
Mitchell formed a friendship with Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, the son of a slave and president of Morehouse College. Mays is “credited with laying the intellectual foundations of the American civil rights movement. Mays taught and mentored many influential activists, including Martin Luther King.” At Mays’ request, Mitchell made significant, anonymous donations. These donations were inspired by her efforts to get adequate health care for her own beloved African American servants. This quest turned her into “a driven visionary who accurately predicted Atlanta’s future as a black metropolis and quietly but fiercely fought racial inequities.” Mitchell’s activism was prematurely cut short when she was fatally injured by a drunk driver. But her family carries on. “In March of 2002, Eugene Mitchell, the nephew of Margaret Mitchell, donated $1.5 million to Morehouse College establishing the Margaret Mitchell Chair in the division of humanities and social sciences. This donation is one of the largest individual gifts in the history of Morehouse College.”
Mitchell carried on a decade-long correspondence with Academy-Award-winner Hattie McDaniel. McDaniel initiated the correspondence, writing to Mitchell to thank her for creating Mammy. She praised Mitchell for the book’s “‘authenticity’ that echoed stories of the Old South she’d heard from her own grandmother, and, especially, for creating the character of Mammy and making her ‘such an outstanding personage.'” Later, McDaniel would write, “‘in grateful recognition of the many fine things that have come my way since you created in your book the lovable character Mammy which enabled me to gain a measure of success in the field of cinema arts.'” Mitchell wrote to McDaniel, “Every time I see Gone with the Wind (and I have seen it five times) my appreciation of your genius in the part of Mammy has grown … I have felt ungenerous that I have not written you fully about how wonderful I think you were.”
In a key scene, Mammy walks up a flight of stairs toward the room where a grief-stricken Rhett has secluded himself after the death of his child, Bonnie. Mammy explains to Melanie (Olivia De Havilland) the tragedies of the household. Mitchell wrote, “I do not weep easily but now I have wept five times at seeing you and Miss de Havilland go up the long stairs. In fact, it’s become a joke among my friends – but they cry, too!”
This staircase scene has 122,000 hits on YouTube. Post after post under the video praise McDaniel. They call her “brilliant,” “perfect,” “awesome,” “powerful,” “legendary,” “raw and real” “towering,” and “thirty years ahead of the rest of the cast.” “Nothing beats Hattie’s acting.” “Anyone else want to hug Mammy?” “As a person of color, I’m proud of her.” “I’ve watched this scene a hundred times, but it’s still heartbreaking.” “Of all the great scenes from GWTW this one’s my favorite … One of the most deserved supporting Oscars ever awarded.” “I get chills.” “I don’t see how anyone can watch this scene without choking up.” “One of the best acted scenes in all of movie history.” “She was the moral center of the story! I know people criticize her for playing a slave but she stole every scene she was in.” Fan praise for McDaniel goes on and on. Clearly, like the man watching Night at the Museum II and focusing so much on Amy Adams’ attributes that the rest of the movie flies over his head, these fans are so focused on Hattie McDaniel’s’ talent that they cannot focus on the film’s racism.
In the book, amidst all the casual use of derogatory language, Mitchell produces prose that beats with real love. After the war, Yankees come south. Some Yankees say that they would never “trust a darky.” Scarlett is apoplectic. “Not trust a darky,” the paragraph begins. “Scarlett trusted them far more than most white people, certainly more than she trusted any Yankee. There were qualities of loyalty and tirelessness and love in them that no strain could break, no money could buy. She thought … of Mammy coming to Atlanta with her to keep her from doing wrong…But the Yankees didn’t understand these things and would never understand them.”
I understand any African American choosing to reject this love from Margaret Mitchell. It is too interlarded with condescension and racist cant. But no one can deny that what Mitchell expresses in this paragraph is real love, and given what we know of her efforts to help her own black servants, that love was, however flawed, entirely real.
I realized a few more things on my third read of Gone with the Wind. There is a category of people that Mitchell denigrates far more savagely than African Americans. Poor, Southern whites, people Mitchell invariably refers to as “trash,” are, with Yankees, the novel’s monsters.
There are many good blacks in GWTW: Mammy, Dilcey, Pork, Big Sam, to name a few. When a “big, ragged white man” tries to rape Scarlett, it is Big Sam who saves her. The would-be rapist has torn her clothing and her breasts are exposed; Big Sam discreetly averts his eyes. After Sherman, Pork keeps the family fed. Uncle Peter raised orphaned Melanie and Charles Hamilton. Aunt Pittypat is “a grown up child,” “a helpless soul,” who “can’t make up her mind about anything.” Black Uncle Peter treats white Aunt Pittypat like a child, and makes up her mind for her. He is her surrogate spouse.
Yes, these black characters are good because they are supportive of white characters. The book is about Scarlett, and it sees the world through her eyes. But these characters are no less well-rounded than any white characters. They have their own distinct personalities and every one of them defies a white person and gets their own way at least once if not several times when their idea of decorum is violated.
There are no such positive poor white characters in GWTW. The closest Mitchell gets is Will Benteen, a Civil War veteran who marries Careen, Scarlett’s sister. But Will is, in Mitchell’s own excruciatingly caste-conscious worldview, not “trash,” but rather something higher, namely a “cracker.” For more on this distinction, see here.
No. Poor white trash, not black slaves, are the lowest form of life in GWTW. White trash kill Scarlett’s beloved mother, Ellen. White trash sabotage Scarlett’s attempts to recover from the war, by demanding taxes she must prostitute herself to pay. Scarlett, at the sight of poor, white trash daring to set foot on Tara’s sacred earth, feels a “a murderous rage so strong it shook her like the ague.” “All her nerves hummed with hate.” Scarlett defies her Southern belle breeding and spits at the “dirty, tow-headed slut,” this “overdressed, common, nasty piece of poor white trash,” this “trashy wench,” this “lousy poor white.” Worse than Yankees burning Tara over her head, Scarlett knows, would be this: “these low common creatures living in this house.” Indeed, Mitchell lists “contempt for white trash” as a sine qua non of Southern identity. In the hierarchy, slaves are their superior. “The house negroes of the County considered themselves superior to white trash.” No less an authority than Mammy declares that white trash are beyond the reach of charity. “It doan do no good doin’ nuthin’ fer w’ite trash. Dey is de shiflesses, mos’ ungrateful passel of no-counts livin’.”
It’s interesting that The Young Turks, John Ridley, Queen Latifah, and other would-be censors voice no objection to the hatred expressed for poor, white trash in GWTW. The 2020 film Emma enjoys an 87% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. As in other Jane Austen adaptations, with the notable exception of Roger Michell’s 1995 take on Persuasion, poor and working class British people, especially servants, are objects, not humans. Here’s the difference: the slave-like servants of Emma are white. A 2020 film treats white servants like objects, and that is okay. This double standard hints at a greater truth: BLM’s obsession with race is a cowardly and hypocritical smokescreen for those who describe themselves as “leftists” and even “Marxists” to avoid talking about class. Queen Latifah, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and LeBron James can posture as convincing revolutionaries as long as they are bashing GWTW or the police on social and mainstream media. Turn the lens toward the vast gap between their luxurious lifestyles and those of the poor of any race, and the revolutionary mask slips. BLM, “supported by capitalists, is disguising the class divisions that Marxism highlights,” wrote Paddy Hannam.
I realized one more thing when I read the book for the third time: it contains some stunningly sophisticated writing, and flashes of beauty.
“Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills … the bloody glory of the sunset colored the fresh-cut furrows of red Georgia clay to even redder hues. The moist hungry earth, waiting upturned for the cotton seeds, showed pinkish on the sandy tops of furrows, vermilion and scarlet and maroon where shadows lay along the sides of the trenches. The whitewashed brick plantation house seemed an island set in a wild red sea, a sea of spiraling, curving, crescent billows petrified suddenly at the moment when the pink-tipped waves were breaking into surf.”
One of GWTW‘s most famous set pieces is Rhett bidding, as at an auction, to buy the right to dance with the recently widowed Scarlett. The scene is meant to be naughty and taboo; the obvious comparison is to a slave auction, or prostitution. It’s also meant to be titillating, and it is.
In the book, this scene’s construction and meaning prove false any accusation that GWTW is a simple-minded potboiler veering twixt torn bodices and cheerleading for Jefferson Davis. At first, the omniscient narrator describes Southerners aflame with devotion to their glorious cause. These paragraphs could be propaganda from the Confederate government. Then, without any real break, the scene is viewed from Scarlett O’Hara’s POV. She is blind to the idealism. The entire event is meaningless to her, except as an opportunity to wear pretty dresses and flirt with desperate soldiers. Then, while she and Rhett dance, he describes the entire scene in a cynical, dystopian way. He sees himself trapped in a room full of deluded sleep walkers dancing toward a cliff off which they will inevitably fall. They exist only to provide him with an opportunity to batten off the wreckage of a civilization. Mitchell offers the reader no reason to disagree with Rhett’s jaundiced take on the entire Confederate project as an exercise in pathetic, delusional, national suicide.
Then, just after the bazaar, Scarlett reads a letter from Ashley. Ashley is asking himself why he is at the front, watching his childhood friends mangled and killed. “Not for honor and glory, certainly,” he answers himself. “War is a dirty business … we have been betrayed, betrayed by our arrogant Southern selves, believing that one of us could whip a dozen Yankees, believing that King Cotton could rule the world. Betrayed, too, by words and catch phrases, prejudices and hatreds coming from the mouths of those highly placed, those men whom we respected and revered. ‘King Cotton, Slavery, States’ Rights, Damn Yankees.'” Ashley concludes that “nothing is worth it–States’ Rights, nor slaves, nor cotton.” Win or lose, Ashley reports, the South that he and his fellows are fighting for is already gone. Both winning and losing will, in different ways, destroy everything they thought they were fighting for.
GWTW is sophisticated enough of a work that it can present four different assessments of the Confederacy’s Lost Cause myth, back-to-back. Most astoundingly, Mitchell offers no commentary. In effect, she says to the reader, “This is what the crowd thinks; this is what Scarlett thinks; this is what Rhett thinks; this is what Ashley thinks. I’m not going to grant any of these points of view my imprimatur.” Mitchell does insist that you look down on white trash as unforgivingly as she does. But her book is too complex to be understood as ordering you to admire the Confederacy. I never took it that way, not on three separate reads.
The GWTW I saw in a student dormitory in Poland in 1989 wasn’t about the South at all. During the screening, I could feel the electricity in the room. As soon as the lights came up, Poles were cheering and crying. They didn’t see Tara; they saw Warsaw. The beasts crouching in the mist were Nazism and Communism. They knew what they were reaching for: self-determination. “Tomorrow is another day” was not Scarlett’s survival ploy; it was their resolve. They would, and eventually did, see the end of Soviet communist hegemony that year.
John Matrixx, an African American YouTuber, saw a different GWTW. He didn’t much like it, but he insisted that he didn’t require HBO to serve as nanny to his reaction to the film. “The thing is,” he said, “this is not a movie about slavery. This is a movie about a conniving woman in some kind of complicated love story That’s what this is. I don’t think this movie was denying the horrors of slavery. It just wasn’t focusing on it. This is about Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh’s weird romance. She actually wants somebody else and she’s doing all these crazy things to get this other guy that she’s been in love with forever to leave his wife. I didn’t see this movie as glorifying the old South. You gotta remember. The movie is being told from a Southern woman’s perspective. Not from someone today, not from someone in the north. This is their story. Let the movie be what it is.”
Jacqueline Stewart from Turner Classic Movies delivers a new introduction to GWTW. She tells viewers that the movie does not depict slavery accurately. Under this intro on YouTube, other African Americans respond. “I’m a black man who has always loved this film.” Others concurred. ” I’m a black woman who also loves this movie despite its faults. I also own this movie.” “As someone from overseas, I learnt about slavery as a teenager because of this movie. It led me to watching Django and The Colour Purple and now I have made connections to current child slavery in the middle east and Asia.” “I’m a black woman, and I will always love this amazing movie! I’m even thinking about a tattoo! I already saw it like a hundred times, and I don’t feel uncomfortable, ’cause I know that it’s just a past that we overcome.”
Life is complicated. The enemy crouching in the mist of my nightmares are neither Democrats nor Republicans; the enemy who must be defeated are those insisting on purity. Right now the armies of the pure are on the left. Their attack on GWTW reveals their hypocrisy. The left announces itself as the champion of the common man, and in its drive for purity it reveals its contempt for the common man. The common man, numbers show, loves GWTW. The left insists that it wants power sharing, and yet the left insists on monopolizing power and dictating how the masses respond to art. The left says it is all about diversity, but it insists that there is only one right way to view GWTW.
The top “Times Pick” comment on New York Times coverage of GWTW makes my blood run cold. A woman says that she read the book three times. At first, she “swooned over the exciting writing.” She “strategized alternative endings” to reunite Scarlett and Rhett. Reading it for a third time, she realized that Rhett was a “rapist,” that the book is all about white “privilege” and reflective of “the mentality of the Trump souther supporter.” (sic)
It gets worse. She made her teenage kids watch the movie. They immediately “got it” and were “furious.”
A girl read a book about people unlike herself, and was able to feel empathy with others. Years later, she realized those feelings were wrong, and she cut them off. Her children have been so indoctrinated that they are incapable of seeing any artistry in what is widely assessed, by friend and foe alike, as one of the most aesthetically significant films of all time. In their hearts, where they might have hosted an avenue to empathy, there exists only politically correct judgment and condemnation. This is no victory, except for the self-christened purity police.
Monday, March 16, 2015, I was sitting by my sister’s bedside. I had my computer in my lap. I knew we might never have another conversation. I actually transcribed our words as we spoke.
“Antoinette, did you like Scarlett?”
“Oh, yeah, I loved her!”
“She was a horrible human being! She married two men she didn’t love!”
“Women do that all the time. They’re very self-centered. I’ve never been a real fan of women.”
“Melanie was very kind,” I said.
“I really didn’t think of Melanie much.”
“But you loved Scarlett!”
“Well, I loved her at first,” Antoinette said. Then she paused. “But then … you know who was really my favorite character?”
“Who?” I asked.
“Actually,” Antoinette said, “my favorite character was Mammy. I thought she had a lot of grace and dignity.”
“I think she let Scarlett push her around too much,” I said.
“Well, what could she do?” Antoinette shot back. “She was black. That was then. Scarlett was her boss. Mammy was the only one who actually showed any dignity. She was the only one who impressed me. She was a very nice person. She took things in hand that needed to be taken in hand. She loved Scarlett and would do anything to help her out. And she was graceful in doing it. She was a lovely person. She was a rare gem.”
My sister died three weeks later. This was the last coherent conversation we had. That’s my Gone with the Wind. One in which my hero, my sister, reveals to me that her hero is a black enslaved woman. A woman who, if she had met the poor Goska kids of blue collar New Jersey, would no doubt have written us off as “Yankee white trash.” I do not begrudge Mammy this. My allowance of her prejudice against poor whites like me is the most minor of my thought crimes. If I must be made a non-person, this is the thought crime I want to be convicted for. I demand my own GWTW, which has nothing to do with glorifying the Confederacy, or misrepresenting slavery, but everything to do with compelling writing about complicated characters facing issues I face myself. That’s art, and I will defy the metaphorical firing squad for it.
Photo: Entertainment Weekly
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery