Black people don’t want to be protected from Gone with the Wind
Dr Christine Louis-Dit-Sully and Courtney Hamilton
For years, anti-racists have sought to ban the 1940 film Gone with the Wind because of its romantic depiction of slavery and its stereotyping of black people. And, for these activists, Christmas came early this year when Brett Batterson, president of the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee, cancelled the cinema’s next annual screening of the film, arguing that it couldn’t ‘show a film that is insensitive to a large segment of its local population’. The film will not be shown in 2018, breaking a 34-year tradition.
Many were overjoyed at the news. Author Earl Ofari Hutchinson declared that the Orpheum was right to dump Gone with the Wind because it was one of ‘the most racist movies of all time’. The chief film correspondent of the Irish Times, Donald Clarke, thought it was ‘sensible not to screen Gone with the Wind’ in Tennessee. He said the election of Donald Trump, and the violence in Charlottesville, had ratcheted up the film’s ‘toxicity to hitherto unmatched levels’. Professor Charles W McKinney, who lives in Memphis, was so offended after his local cinema had the temerity to screen it that he tweeted: ‘Seriously y’all?’
You’d be forgiven for thinking they were referring to Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous 1930s Nazi film Triumph of the Will, or pro-slavery propaganda. Indeed, Hutchinson argued that Gone with the Wind was ‘more dangerous than hoisting the Confederate flag or a Confederate monument’. But dangerous for who? Can films physically threaten black people? The irony here is that Gone with the Wind, despite reflecting some of the ugly ideas of its time, arguably marked a progressive shift for black people in cinema – Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Oscar, for her role as Mammy. More crucially, a 2014 YouGov poll found that 61 per cent of black Americans liked the film. Activists are apparently the only ones who think that black people are so psychologically fragile that old films and stories can damage their gentle minds.
The Orpheum’s ostentatious self-censorship demonstrates the increasing need of anti-racists to publicise their sympathy and supposedly progressive credentials. Banning this film had little to do with protecting the sensibilities of black people. It was an exercise in advertising virtue. Instead of coming up with solutions for the challenges that black people face today, anti-racists simply strike patronising poses. We need be extra vigilant against the demands of these so-called anti-racists. Not only are bans like this deeply censorious, they promote the idea that black people are weak and fragile. That’s far more offensive than Gone with the Wind.
Dr Christine Louis-Dit-Sully and Courtney Hamilton are writers.