As you’ve doubtless heard by now, in the wake of the protests that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Warner Media announced Tuesday that it was temporarily pullingthe classic 1939 film Gone With the Wind from the streaming service HBO Max. The move followed an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times earlier in the weekby John Ridley, the screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave and numerous other films, suggesting that HBO “take it off your platform for now.”
The ensuing freakout was swift and immense, from those who seem to believe that, following the last three weeks of American history, THIS is the injustice worth getting exercised about.
“Frankly, my dear…”
Let’s be clear about what happened: HBO did not ban, censor, or “blacklist” Gone With the Wind. It temporarily removed the film from HBO Max, a streaming service that’s existed for less than three weeks. Gone With the Wind has the exact same availability now that it had this time last month, and this isn’t censorship any more than well-known movies dropping off of streaming services like they do every single day.
HBO’s statement: “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. 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. These depictions are certainly counter to WarnerMedia’s values, so when we return the film to HBO Max, it will return 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. If we are to create a more just, equitable and inclusive future, we must first acknowledge and understand our history.”
They’re not banning it. They’re adding a disclaimer or possibly a brief pre-show discussion providing some context, both of which users will likely be able to skip via fast forward button. And when the movie comes back, they’re not going to edit it or censor it.
They’re adding a disclaimer or possibly a brief pre-show discussion providing some context, both of which users will likely be able to skip
This same controversy happened back when Disney+ launched, and a few cultural scolds went nuts when they found out the company included disclaimers before some older movies, while otherwise not altering them at all. In that case, as in that of Gone With the Wind, users are welcome to avert their eyes for a few seconds to avoid such an insidious disclaimer.
If WarnerMedia/HBO were memory-holing Gone With the Wind forever, pulling it from circulation in all forms of media or, like, destroying the master negative, that would be censorship. If they made alterations to the film itself, I would also object strenuously, on film preservationist grounds. But none of that is on the table, or even close to on the table.
And in the meantime, before Gone With the Wind returns to HBO Max, it’s right there to rent from Amazon, Apple, or other VOD providers for just $4. Also, the film’s controversy led the film’s DVD to the top of the Amazon sales chart Wednesday.
If this all sounds familiar, we already did this same dance almost exactly five years ago, when then-New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick suggested that Gone With The Windshould “go the way of the Confederate flag.” Lumenick did not call for the movie to be banned or suppressed – although numerous aggregations of his piece suggested falsely that he had – and instead suggested that the film be consigned to museums. Though even if he had pushed for full banishment, one writer in one newspaper doesn’t have the power to get movies banned all by himself. But back then, as of now, the not-banned Gone With the Wind surged to the top of Amazon’s charts.
Lumenick was right, though. Gone With the Wind sucks. It’s overlong at four hours, which is spent with a whiny, awful protagonist, and is entirely steeped in disgustingly racist, Lost Cause ideology. Of the “Great Movies” of old Hollywood, it’s by far the worst.
And in case you thought the P.C. police caused people to just start noticing in the last few years that Gone With the Wind was racist, well, take a look at this thread. The NAACP, the black press and others knew what was going on, all the way back in 1939.
Adam Serwer of The Atlantic, one of today’s most incisive writers on race, also pointed out why this is all so ridiculous:
The ‘Blazing Saddles’ Slippery Slope
But then, of course, there’s the other stupid debate we get to have again: The Blazing Saddles one.
Following the Gone With the Wind news, Blazing Saddles was soon trending on Twitter. The implication? If Gone With the Wind is “banned,” then Mel Brooks’ ’70s Western, with its racial stereotypes and n-words, must not be far behind.
It’s been a ridiculous argument every time it’s been made for years – and I’ve addressed it before, in this space – but once again: Blazing Saddles is one of the most stridently anti-racist movies in history. It’s both a dead-on parody of the racist tropes of the Western genre, and an overall condemnation of both white conservative racial panic and the tendency of right-wing plutocrats to hide behind the grievances of poor whites.
This scene, in particular, is the last 50 years of Republican political messaging in 70 seconds:
There are a lot of dumb things about this discussion, but here’s the biggest one: There’s virtually no one on the left arguing for the cancellation of Blazing Saddles, but many, many people on the right are assuming that people on the left MIGHT cancel it. It’s completely theoretical, based on stuff that hasn’t ever happened and probably never will. Sure, the occasional thinkpiece about the movie will touch on elements that haven’t held up that well. But as always, it’s a ridiculous leap to interpret, say, “Blazing Saddles at 45: Hilarious and Troublesome” as a veiled call for censorship.
The conservative freakout about “the woke” supposedly wanting to ban Blazing Saddles is about 1000 times as large as any actual real-world attempt by wokesters to ban Blazing Saddles – as was clear to anyone who clicked on that trending topic.
The conservative freakout about “the woke” supposedly wanting to ban Blazing Saddles is about 1000 times as large as any actual real-world attempt
But in the meantime, Blazing Saddles remains blessedly unbanned. You can stream it on Hulu, or rent it from any major VOD outlet. As for the other frequent argument, it really doesn’t matter if Blazing Saddles could never be made today. Thankfully, it was already made, in 1974, and doesn’t need to be made again.
HBO Max’s temporary pulling of Gone With the Wind is completely defensible, and shouldn’t be the slightest bit controversial. If, after the last month of American history, this is the thing you’re angry about, then there’s something wrong with you.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.