75 years later, racism has not Gone with the Wind

Incredible as it may sound, racism in the US exists today as it did 75 years ago when Victor Fleming's Gone with the Wind opened on December 15, 1939. HT looks at racism in the context of the iconic film.

hollywood Updated: Dec 18, 2014 17:24 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Hindustan Times
Victor Fleming,Gone with the Wind,Matthew Bernstein

Incredible as it may sound, racism in the US exists today as it did 75 years ago when Victor Fleming's Gone with the Wind opened on December 15, 1939.

In an interview with People, America's First Lady, Michelle Obama said: "I tell this story - I mean, even as the first lady - during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn't see me as the First Lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn't anything new."

President Barack Obama told the same magazine: "There's no black male my age, who's a professional, who hasn't come out of a restaurant and is waiting for his car and somebody didn't hand him their car keys… Yes, it had happened to me."

Interestingly, racial stereotyping and tension continues today as it did since the days of Gone with the Wind. There is new finding to suggest that racial tension was apparent between the film's legendary producer, David O Selznick and officials of Atlanta City, where the movie premiered.

Matthew Bernstein, professor of film studies in Emory University - who has done extensive research into Selznick's archives - told Associated Press recently that the producer was peeved over the city's treatment of the movie's black stars at the premiere.

"Selznick was upset that Hattie McDaniel would not be invited to the Atlanta premiere," said Bernstein. "He argued over and over that she should be allowed." McDaniel portrayed Mammy (Scarlett O Hara's/Vivien Leigh nanny) and she went on to become the first black actor to receive an Academy Award for her performance as the Best Supporting Actress in 1940.


Margaret Mitchell's book Gone with the Wind was made into a film by David O Selznick and directed by Victor Fleming. It was set in civil war America.

Unfortunately, Atlanta's segregation laws stopped the black actors of Gone with the Wind from walking into the premiere. "Selznick was Jewish and was naturally very mindful of the persecution of the Jews in Europe in the late-1930s under Nazism," Bernstein averred. "And he saw an analogy between that persecution and the life of African-Americans especially in the southern states of America."

While the South wanted to retain black slavery to farm its cotton plantations, the North opposed it and went to war in 1861. The North won, and slavery was abolished, but prejudices remained even decades later. They exist even today in some form or the other as the Obamas contended.

Gone with the Wind, the 1300-page novel written by Margaret Mitchell (the only one she did), is a story that unfolds against the American Civil War, and it went on to win 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.

Despite the ban on black actors from participating in the premiere, they held various events just before the big night. In one of them, Martin Luther King Junior, who was 10 then, appeared at a charity ball dressed as a slave!

First Published: Dec 18, 2014 17:24 IST