The Oscar-winning 1939 drama Gone With the Wind has been removed from due to “racist depictions” but will eventually be brought back with historical context, the new streaming service said Tuesday.
“Gone With The Wind is a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society,” HBO Max, which is part of AT&T-owned WarnerMedia, said in a statement. “These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible.”
The company has a precedent for this kind of response. The language of HBO Max’s statement, for example, is nearly identical to disclaimers that Warner Bros., another WarnerMedia company, have put before certaincartoons rereleased on DVDs or streaming services since 2005.
But HBO Max’s action on Gone with the Wind was quick. It came a day after Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley, in an editorial published Monday in the Los Angeles Times, urged HBO Max to temporarily remove the film. His call to HBO Max came amid two weeks of worldwide protests against racism and police brutality after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, for nearly nine minutes on May 25, killing him. Floyd was buried Tuesday in his hometown of Houston.
The headline on Ridley’s editorial reads, “Hey, HBO, ‘Gone With the Wind’ romanticizes the horrors of slavery. Take it off your platform for now.”
“The movie had the very best talents in Hollywood at that time working together to sentimentalize a history that never was,” Ridley writes. “And it continues to give cover to those who falsely claim that clinging to the iconography of the plantation era is a matter of ‘heritage, not hate.'”
The director added that he doesn’t believe the film should be censored but should be returned to HBO Max, perhaps paired with other films about slavery and the Confederacy or with narratives that tell “stories from different perspectives.”
HBO executives apparently listened. The network’s statement on Tuesday said the film would return with a discussion of its historical context but would be presented uncensored. “If we are to create a more just, equitable and inclusive future, we must first acknowledge and understand our history,” the statement said.
No date was given for when the film might return to HBO Max.
HBO isn’t the only entertainment giant rethinking programming choices in light of Floyd’s death in the custody of police. Also on Tuesday, Paramount Networkthe long-running police reality show Cops. (Disclosure: Paramount Network is owned by ViacomCBS, the parent company of CNET.)
And other streaming services have grappled with how to deal with classic titles containing racist or otherwise offensive stereotypes, now streaming to modern audiences. When Disney Plus launched last year, the plot descriptions for titles like Dumbo, The Jungle Book and Lady and the Tramp included a warning that the titles contain “ ,” and the films are being presented as they were originally created.
But for another controversial Disney title, Disney Plus opted to exclude it entirely from its streaming collection. Song of the South, which is the source of the song Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah and the basis for the Disney theme parks ride Splash Mountain, has long been criticized for its depictions of former slaves. The full film has never been released for home viewing, and it wasn’t included in the Disney Plus catalog either. The movie is “not appropriate in today’s world,” Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger said in March.
Gone With the Wind is based on Margaret Mitchell’s epic 1936 novel about the life and loves of Scarlett O’Hara, a plantation owner’s daughter who struggles to survive the American Civil War and its aftermath. The book won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
The film version starred Vivien Leigh as Scarlett and Clark Gable as her love interest, Rhett Butler. It won 10 Academy Awards, including best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay and best actress for Leigh. Hattie McDaniel, who played a slave called Mammy, won for best supporting actress, making her the first African American to win an Oscar. Yet due to Jim Crow laws in Georgia, McDaniel wasn’t allowed to attend the film’s 1939 Atlanta premiere.