the “Gone with the Wind” paradox

A copy of Margaret Mitchell's book Gone With the Wind, signed by several members of the film adaptation team in Los Angeles in 2007.

As the Black Lives Matter movement continued to grow across the United States after the death of African-American George Floyd, asphyxiated by a white police officer, the platform American form of video HBO Max announced, on June 9, to remove the film from its catalog Gone with the wind, by Victor Fleming. A work that is regularly the subject of controversy and that historians judge “Revisionist”. The suspension is temporary, said the audiovisual group, which plans to return online as soon as a contextualization note is added.

At issue: the description of slavery as a happy institution, a large family linked by affection and not by bondage, a lost paradise devoid of cruelties. But also a tendentious representation of the American Civil War (1861-1865) and the years of reconstruction following the defeat of the Confederate States. So many criticisms made since the publication of the saga of Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949) in 1936, three years before her film adaptation by Victor Fleming (1889-1949).

Read also “Gone with the Wind” removed from the HBO Max catalog for its “racist prejudices”

So these are two classics, one from cinema, the other from literature. The novel, Pulitzer Prize winner 1937, credited with sales records – one million copies sold in a few weeks in the United States, 30 million to date worldwide – replied the film at the eight Oscars, the most profitable of Hollywood history. Both are so totemic across the Atlantic that fans refer to them as “GWTW”, for Gone With the Wind, the title in English.

Ideology of the “lost cause”

Since its release, the book has been a rallying symbol for supporters of the Ku Klux Klan and nostalgics of the old South. Part of the anti-Tom literature – with reference to Uncle Tom’s cabin (1852), by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a reference for abolitionists -, Margaret Mitchell unhesitatingly espouses the ideology of lost cause (” lost cause “). According to this theory, during the American Civil War, the southern states fought for their political independence threatened by Yankees jealous of their way of life, and not for the safeguard of the slave system.

The pleasure provided by Margaret Mitchell’s work does not neutralize critical thinking: to admire her art, one does not need to be fooled by her ideology

Alarmed at the time by the phenomenal success of the saga in bookstores, black associations quickly denounced the rewriting of history and the caricatured and infantilizing description of blacks. Native of Atlanta, where the action of the book takes place in part, Margaret Mitchell was inspired, to depict the domain of Tara (property of the O’Hara family and heart of the book), of the plantation managed by her grand – maternal mother, daughter of an Irish immigrant, in County Clayton. As a child, the future novelist had been so lulled by the magnified accounts of southern veterans that she was amazed to learn, at the age of 10, that the Confederates had, in reality, lost the war.

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