"Gone With the Wind" opened 75 years ago Monday
The movie is criticized for racism, celebrated for its filmmaking bravado
"GWTW" remains representative of golden era of Hollywood filmmaking
Seventy-five years after its premiere at Atlanta’s Loews Grand Theater on December 15, 1939, “Gone With the Wind” retains its hold on the popular imagination.
Tourists to Atlanta long to see Tara. (Sorry, it doesn’t exist, though there is a Road to Tara Museum south of town, not to mention the Margaret Mitchell House, which showcases the apartment where Mitchell wrote the book.)
Its lines – “Fiddle-dee-dee,” “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” “Tomorrow is another day” – are still widely repeated and parodied.
And, in its monumental Hollywood-ness, it’s often held up as the pinnacle of one of the finest years in film history, 1939.
But the film is also incredibly divisive, partly because of the era it represents – the South in the Civil War – and partly because of its sheer, over-the-top bulk. Its racism is particularly unnerving in 2014, a year in which American society has grappled with racial unrest over police treatment of African-Americans and other issues.
Here are some reasons to love and hate “GWTW”:
Love: It’s incredibly faithful to the book
This is not a small point. The 1936 book – all 1,037 pages of it – was a phenomenon of Harry Potter proportions and audiences damn well wanted to see every last detail on screen.
“It is the picture for which Mr. Gallup’s American Institute of Public Opinion has reported a palpitantly waiting audience of 56,500,000 persons, a few of whom may find encouragement in our opinion that they won’t be disappointed in Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett, Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler or, for that matter, in Mr. Selznick’s Miss Mitchell,” wrote The New York Times in a contemporary review.
Hate: It’s incredibly faithful to the book
The book may have been a huge best-seller, but it was not universally loved. Other writers disparaged it; in a 1937 meeting of the American Writers Congress, the rank and file voted overwhelmingly for John Dos Passos’ “The Big Money” as the best book of 1936. “GWTW” got one vote.
Why? It is sprawling and messy, traffics in clichés and is “unforgivingly racist,” Time noted in 2011.
Hate: It’s, well, racist
The black characters in “GWTW” are walking stereotypes of slaves and maids. Black dramatist Carlton Moss compared it with “The Birth of a Nation,” noting that “GWTW” was just a quieter vilification of African-Americans: a “rear attack” compared with “Birth’s” direct approach. A “weapon of terror against black America,” added the Chicago Defender.
There were demonstrations against the film in some cities, and Hattie McDaniel, who won an Oscar for her performance, couldn’t even attend the Atlanta premiere with other celebrities because of segregation laws.
The film’s portrayal of African-Americans still troubles – partly, says Esquire’s Stephen Marche, because they’re still evident today.
“There are good blacks and insolent blacks. There are house blacks and there are field blacks. Whenever African-American characters are articulate, it is always meant as a comic surprise,” he writes. “These are still the prejudices that bedevil representations of African-Americans on screen.”
Love: It showcases a modern woman
Scarlett O’Hara may live in the 1860s, but as many critics have observed, in her determination and