Early last year, a little film celebrated it’s 75th anniversary. First, there was a Disney prequel released in March that did good business. Then, later in the year, a special 3D presentation of the film was released, followed by a QVC special and countless magazine covers. And the festivities continue into 2014. An animated sequel will be released in May and the film’s iconic score will be celebrated at the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony.
What is the film? Why it’s The Wizard of Oz of course! The film was released in 1939 to great reviews and mediocre box office. It wasn’t until television stations started playing it that the film earned the beloved reception it enjoys today.
But The Wizard of Oz is not the only film that was released in 1939. Known amongst critics as the greatest year in American cinema, 1939 bought us Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Ninotchka and a little Civil War epic known as Gone With the Wind. In fact, aside from The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind is one of the most celebrated films released in 1939. And yet, it’s 75th anniversary has gone unnoticed. There is no Blu Ray boxset, no theatrical release and certainly no QVC special. The Academy Awards will not celebrated the film and will instead focus solely on The Wizard of Oz.
The deliberate exclusion of Gone With the Wind is quite puzzling. Not only was it the highest grossing movie of 1939, but GWTW still holds the title of the highest grossing movie of all time. AND the film cleaned up at the Oscar, winning 10 awards including Best Picture.
So why is it that a film that has brought us iconic lines like “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” and “Tomorrow is another day,” is shunned from public celebration? One word: slavery.
That’s right folks. Gone With the Wind’s 75 anniversary has gone unnoticed largely due to it’s depiction of slavery. Look at the times we live in: we have a black president and the film 12 Days a Slave is nominated for Best Picture. And while I agree that Gone With the Wind portrays slavery in an romanticized way, I do not think the film or the novel it is based on, should be forgotten.
When it comes to analyzing a work of art like Gone With the Wind, we need to keep in mind that the film is a product of its time. Back in 1939, black actors were still playing second fiddle to their white counterparts. Hattie McDaniel, who played the part of Mammy in Gone With the Wind, was the first African American ever to win an Oscar. The Civil Rights movement had yet to begin and full equality wouldn’t come for several decades.
And yet, are we going to hold this against Gone With the Wind? Many people forget that the film tells the story about the fall of the South. The very title of the picture suggests that this was a fragile society that was destined to crumble. I think the film portrays slavery the way it does because it is told from the Southern perspective. That was the life they lived and the life they knew. They needed slaves to keep that life afloat.
Sure, even after the South falls, Scarlett keeps her slaves like Mammy. But they want to stay. And not every character is pro-slavery. At the beginning of the film, Ashley Wilkes makes it clear that he wanted to free the slaves at Twelve Oaks. And yet, people still harbor on the fact that the film shows happy slaves.
These critics fail to recognize the real crux of the film: women’s suffrage. You can make an argument about GWTW’s portrayal of African slaves all you want, but the true slaves of the film are the women. Scarlett, her sisters and Melanie, are all enslaved to the system. They have to act like ladies to get a man. They can’t eat too much. They need to dress a certain way. And God help them if they disobey. Most women, like Melanie Wilkes, adapt to this role quite well. It’s Scarlett O’Hara who is restless and longs for something more: equality.
Though she doesn’t say as much, Scarlett rises to the occasion when the South falls. She becomes the provider for her family and inserts herself into the realm of business, which used to exclusively belong to men. That’s why she was so hated. Not because she had slaves, but because she dared to step outside of the box of what women should be. Of course, the film punishes Scarlett by leaving her alone at the end of the film, but do we honestly believe for one second that Scarlett will crumble in Rhett’s absence? Of course not. She’ll recover like she always does and go on carving her own path in life. Characters like Melanie represent an archaic model of womanhood, one that in 1939, was slowly beginning to fade.
That’s what makes Gone With the Wind so fascinating. It’s really a film about women. Yet, people choose to focus on the racial aspect. I’m not saying Gone With the Wind is perfect mind you. The fact that Scarlett marries and essentially sleeps around to get what she wants is troublesome, but that was the only tool available to women at the time. But trying to stamp out this film or change it, is just wrong. That’s like censoring The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because of the N-Word. It’s part of our history.
When it comes to a technical level, Gone With the Wind should be celebrated. The cinematography is beautiful. So is the writing and directing. And if you want prove that the acting is top-notch, look no further than the scene below.
Unfortunately, Gone With the Wind will forever hold the stigma of slavery. And in this day and age, people are too blind to look past that.
So this is my ode to Gone With the Wind, a film that I think is worthy of as much praise as The Wizard of Oz. Maybe, someday, GWTW, both the novel and film, will receive the recognition it deserves. Maybe, one day, society will learn to accept both sides of its past, even the unsavory aspects.
After all, tomorrow is another day.