Gone with the Wind has returned to HBO Max with a four-minute disclaimer explaining how the film “denies the horrors of slavery” two weeks after it was pulled from the streaming service.
The Oscar-winning film is still available in its entirety but is now accompanied by an introduction giving historical context and a recording of a panel discussion about the movie at the Turner Classic Movie (TCM) festival in 2019.
HBO Max removed the film two weeks ago as the US began reckoning with systemic racism following nationwide protests over police brutality following the death of George Floyd.
“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,” a WarnerMedia spokesman said.
What’s the change?
Viewers will now hear TCM host and film scholar Jacqueline Stewart discuss the racial implications of the film, set on a Georgia plantation during the civil war era, before it begins.
She said the film glorifies the South before the civil war as “a world of grace and beauty without acknowledging the brutality of chattel slavery upon which this world was based”.
“The film represents enslaved black people in accordance with longstanding stereotypes, as servants, notable for their devotion to their white masters or for their ineptitude,” she says.
“And the film’s treatment of this world through a lens of nostalgia denies the horrors of slavery as well as its legacies of racial inequality.”
Based on a 1936 book by Margaret Mitchell, the film has long been denounced for featuring slave characters who remain loyal to their former owners after the abolition of slavery.
It remains the highest-grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation.
Black cast members excluded
“When the film was released, black cast members were not permitted to attend the premiere due to Georgia’s Jim Crow segregation laws,” Ms Stewart said.
“And when Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to receive an Oscar for her powerhouse performance as Mammy, she was not permitted to sit with the rest of the cast in the ‘white’s only’ Coconut Grove club, but instead at a small table at the edge of the room.”
Queen Latifah, who plays McDaniel in the Netflix series Hollywood, called for Gone with the Wind to be removed completely.
“They didn’t even let her in the theatre until right before she got that award,” she said.
“Someone came outside and brought her into the auditorium. She wasn’t even allowed to sit in there.
“And then she had to read a speech that was written by a studio. You know that’s not what the hell she wanted to say.
“Then after that, all she could do was play the same kinds of roles.”
A Hollywood Reporter piece on McDaniel’s life says the actor’s wish to be buried at the Hollywood Cemetery was denied because of a whites-only policy at the time.
She left her Oscar to the Howard University, where it was reportedly deemed valueless by appraisers and went missing in the 70s.
McDaniel’s character embodied the stereotype of black female slaves as docile, unintelligent and devoted, a caricature identical to that of the now-axed Aunt Jemima pancake mix line.
Cyndi Tiedt, an educator and database administrator at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, says the “mammy” stereotype plays up to wholesome nostalgia but has dark connotations.
“It was really used to justify slavery — ‘There’s the happy slave, so how bad can it be?’,” Ms Tiedt said.
Full film unchanged
While some called to pull the film permanently, the full three-hour, 58-minute cut was brought back to HBO Max.
The streaming service previously said that altering the film “would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed”.
“Watching Gone With the Wind can be uncomfortable, even painful,” Ms Stewart says.
“Still, it is important that classic Hollywood films are available to us in their original form for viewing and discussing.
“They reflect the social context in which they were made and invite viewers to reflect on their own values and beliefs when watching them now.”