The movie Gone With The Wind was officially released on January 17, 1940, and subsequently won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It was so popular that, adjusted for inflation, it’s still the most success film in movie history.
I saw it for the first time when I was in middle school and our teachers took everyone in our grade to the local movie theater for a special showing. We were told we needed to see the movie because it was a classic. Since we were getting out of school for the day, we were excited to go, even though few of us knew much about the film.
But I still remember the feeling of growing disappointment as I watched it. First of all, it told the story of the last days of the white slave-owning aristocracy of the old South, and we didn’t care about those people. And most of us were uncomfortable with the movie’s portrayal of slave owners as benevolent caretakers of ignorant, childlike blacks. I found the scene where the slaves were eager to help build defensive positions for Confederate soldiers outside of Atlanta difficult to believe. The character of Scarlett O’Hara’s maid, Prissy, was outright offensive.
The movie was also really long and tedious, so when the intermission came we were all very disappointed that the movie wasn’t over. And finally, who cared if Scarlett and Rhett never worked things out between them? She was a selfish bitch and he was better off without her. It was the lamest field trip of my school years.
Gone With The Wind was a work of fiction, based upon a 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell. She grew up in Atlanta, and both of her grandfathers served in the Confederate army, so she knew a lot about the old South. But her book and the movie weren’t historically accurate.
A couple of weeks ago I went to see the new movie 12 Years a Slave, which is based upon the 1853 autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who was kidnapped while visiting Washington, D.C., in 1841 and sold into slavery. He was a slave on plantations in Louisiana for twelve years before his true identity was revealed and he was allowed to return to his family.
12 Years a Slave shows what the old South was really like. Many of the movie’s scenes are horrific, especially since they were true. The movie also shows how the institution of slavery had totally corrupted Southern white society, as its preservation was based upon the use of terror against any threat of change – even when the threats came from other white slave-owning Southerners.
You leave the movie with the clear understanding that the real cause of the Civil War was the evil commercial concept that a human being could be legally designated as a piece of private property. And you realize the modern day right-wing’s fixation on the inviolable sanctity of property rights, at any cost, isn’t a new phenomenon.
No matter who you are, you will leave the movie feeling some strong emotions. But if you’re white, you will feel ashamed that slavery was allowed to continue for as long as it did, and want to find some way to apologize for it. I saw the movie with a black friend and as we were walking out of the theater he said, “It’s a good thing we’re friends, because otherwise I’d really want to kick your ass you right now.” I understood how he felt and took no offense.
According to the American Film Institute, the movie Gone With The Wind is 4th best film of all time. I don’t think it deserves to even be on the list. It still sucks.
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