WarnerMedia has yanked “Gone With the Wind” from its HBO Max streaming service, but the company plans to return the Southern Civil War drama to its catalogue once it adds disclaimers about the film’s racist depictions.
The move comes less than two days after filmmaker John Ridley argued, in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece, that the 1939 film not only ignored “the horrors of slavery” but also perpetuated “some of the most painful stereotypes of people of colour.”
WarnerMedia, which is owned by telecommunications giant AT&T, acted swiftly.
“’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,” WarnerMedia said in a statement Tuesday. “These racist depictions were wrong then, and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible.”
WarnerMedia said it planned to return the Oscar-winning film to its new streaming service, along with “a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions.”
However, the company said that the film “will be presented as it was originally created, because otherwise, it would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”
The move comes in the wake of George Floyd’s killing on May 25 by a white Minneapolis police officer, who pinned Floyd at the neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds as other police officers dispassionately looked on.
The killing, captured on cellphone video, galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement and sparked huge protests in American cities against police brutality. Media outlets, which have unevenly covered the protests and civil unrest, have been reckoning with their own history of reinforcing racism.
On Sunday, the New York Times opinion editor James Bennet resigned amid controversy over the paper’s publication of an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) under the headline “Send in the Troops.” Cotton’s piece focused on the rioting and called for the military to be mobilized to back up police. It came as the vast majority of protests were peaceful.
Separately, on Tuesday, ViacomCBS’ Paramount Network cancelled the long-running TV show “Cops.”
“As a filmmaker, I get that movies are often snapshots of moments in history,” Ridley wrote in his opinion piece about “Gone With the Wind.” “They reflect not only the attitudes and opinions of those involved in their creation, but also those of the prevailing culture. As such, even the most well-intentioned films can fall short in how they represent marginalized communities.”
The MGM film swept the Academy Awards the following year, notching wins for best picture, director (Victor Fleming), actress (Vivien Leigh), and supporting actress Hattie McDaniel became the first Black American to win an Oscar for her turn as the servant Mammy.
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“‘Gone With the Wind,’ however, has its own unique problem,” Ridley wrote. “It doesn’t just ‘fall short’ with regard to representation. It is a film that glorifies the antebellum south. It is a film that, when it is not ignoring the horrors of slavery, pauses only to perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of colour.”
“If we are to create a more just, equitable and inclusive future, we must first acknowledge and understand our history,” WarnerMedia wrote in its statement, but did not specify when the film would return to HBO Max.