In the recent past we saw the emergent protesting movement led by the slogan “black lives matter“, generated by the murder or George Floyd in the USA. Since then, several parts of our society have seen consequences, and among them the removal of Gone With The Wind from HBO Max. Was it really the right thing to do?
The removal of the 1939 film from HBO Max streaming platform generated a series of arguments on the topic, that saw people reacting in different ways: from the people that backed the decision taken by HBO headquarters, to the ones that didn’t agree at all with the fact that a classic film like this should be removed (even if might just be temporary) from a streaming service. The film is set in 1861, on the eve of the American Civil War, in a cotton plantation in Georgia, where Scarlett O’Hara lives with her family and many slaves: a thing that, for the time that is being represented, was unfortunately a common thing. The film has always been at the center of some criticism on some delicate topics like racial discrimination and marital rape: in one scene, indeed, Scarlett is forced having sex by her husband Rhett, after that she refused in the first place.
Among all the critics, the fact that the characters that own slaves in the film are all positive ones, and they are supposed to be the “good guys” of the story (despite the fact they’re actually enslaving people) doesn’t help the general view that the public receives from the film. The fact is, as I previously said, that owning slaves was a completely normal thing, well rooted within the society of that time, and both the novel and the film (which are respectively released in 1936 and 1939) represent that reality, no matter how harsh it could be: even good, positive characters like the ones in the O’Hara family had slaves in their houses and plantations.
Over the history of cinema films have always been a mean to recreate reality and represent it, and this phenomenon has been used for propaganda and political reasons, too: as Aristotle stated in his Poetics, art is best understood as a form of mimesis, an imitation of reality based on a medium (through which it was expressed) and a mode (the way the medium was utilized). That’s what Gone With The Wind should be seen as: an imitation of a reality that is a part of humankind history and that should be remembered as a lesson for future generations. Owning slaves and racial discrimination were, are and will always be wrong, but that doesn’t mean we have to forget our past.
Our history should be the perfect example of how to act and the mean to prevent such horrible things from happening again: ignoring the problem or, better, pretend it never existed is quite hypocritical and should never be the way to face a subject like this. We can state the same for films and other works that represent the Holocaust, as these works depict an extremely tragic time in our history, and they could potentially prompt racial hate, too, just like Gone With The Wind. Why aren’t we getting rid of those films that represent the slaughter of an entire ethnic group? The answer is quite simple: to not forget. Art works that talk about these matters are not made with the goal of inciting to violence or racial hate, but the real target is the reproduction of reality: it is up to the common sense of the people who observe the work, then, to understand that racism is wrong and that it shouldn’t be a life model to follow.
The question now is: did they notice that the film treated subjects like slavery and racial discrimination just now? Unfortunately, racism wasn’t born with this film, and it’s not going to die with George Floyd either: how many cases like this happen every day in the world without us knowing? Racism is a huge problem that didn’t disappear with the defeat of the Nazi ideals in WWII, and it won’t end any time soon: it is outstanding, though, to see the massive worldwide reactions to a tragic event that, through the evolution of medias, reached every single part of the world. The hope is that things might finally change: forgetting our past and pretending it never happened, though, it is not the way to move forward.