Few Hollywood movies enjoy the revered status of 1939's Gone With the Wind. The epic historical drama is an adaption of the 1936 novel of the same name. It features tempestuous romance, stirring scenes from the American Civil War, and unfortunately, racial prejudices that were common at the time. Keeping this last fact in mind, HBO Max has removed the film from its library in response to protests over the death of George Floyd. A spokesperson issued a statement to Variety regarding the decision.

"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."
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"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."

Gone with the Wind is the story of Scarlett O'Hara, the strong-willed daughter of a plantation owner. Scarlett goes after Ashely Wilkes romantically, who is married to his cousin Melanie, and Scarlett later marries Rhett Butler. The film was a giant success upon release and made stars out of its lead cast of Vivien Leigh (Scarlett), Clark Gable (Rhett), Leslie Howard (Ashley), and Olivia de Havilland (Melanie).

In recent times, the movie has been re-examined through the context of a racial lens and found wanting in many ways. Parts of the story are set at a literal plantation run by slaves, who are all dutiful and subservient, and lack any personal agency. Slavery itself is regarded as something that simply exists, instead of being something that needs to be eradicated. The Civil War is also framed as a fight between the north and south where the southerners are fighting to preserve traditional values.

These criticisms are nothing new. They have been leveled against the movie for decades. But the recent BLM movements across the world have put the issue of racism in movies into sharper focus. According to the statement issued by HBO Max, the movie will eventually return to the streaming platform but will be accompanied by a denunciation of its racist themes and a critical examination of the historical context in which the film was made.

Gone with the Wind is hardly the only feature from Hollywood with a tone-deaf portrayal of people of color. After all, Tropic Thunder had Robert Downey Jr. dressing up in blackface, as a way of mocking other actors dressing up in blackface. It remains to be seen if other movies will be getting similar treatment in the coming days. Variety

Neeraj Chand