Gone With the Wind and Redefining Film 'Classics'

Gone With the Wind and Redefining Film 'Classics'

After 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley called for HBO Max to remove Gone With the Wind from its streaming service, the platform removed the movie and pledged to upload it with new material that contextualizes it in history.

Ridley wrote about the film’s glorification of slavery in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times published on Monday, writing that “it is a film that, when it is not ignoring the horrors of slavery, pauses only to perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color.” He added that he wasn’t calling for censorship, but for context for viewers:

I would just ask, after a respectful amount of time has passed, that the film be re-introduced to the HBO Max platform along with other films that give a more broad-based and complete picture of what slavery and the Confederacy truly were. Or, perhaps it could be paired with conversations about narratives and why it’s important to have many voices sharing stories from different perspectives rather than merely those reinforcing the views of the prevailing culture.

HBO Max removed the movie on Tuesday night, Vanity Fair reports, and told the outlet that “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.” HBO Max plans to return the film to the service at an unknown date with “a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions, but will be presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”

How HBO Max specifically decides to add historical context is unclear. I’m imagining a Pop-Up Video style treatment on-screen with historical details about the film and the era it depicts. Services like the Criterion Channel, which specializes in reissuing movies often sidelined by mainstream streaming services, sometimes include short videos of commentary from directors or fans who provide context for the film, and that could be an option, too. But what’s clear is that movies like Gone With the Wind can’t just exist as-is on streaming services anymore.

HBO acquired movies via Warner Bros. Classics for its service, including movies like Gone With the Wind, King Kong, and Freaks, among others. Those movies are considered classics, but viewers would benefit from understanding their cultural significance before consuming them. How can you watch the original King Kong and not think about how its imagery mirrored racist propaganda at the time? Or how audiences were so repulsed by the depiction of disabled actors in Freaks that MGM had to pull its release? It’s easy to throw a bunch of movies onto a streaming service and call it a day, but HBO Max’s pulling of Gone With the Wind is a step in the right direction for how “classic” films should be redefined for viewers who might stumble upon movies that glorify antiquated views or gloss over history.

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