“Gone With the Wind” will not be shown in the future by a Tennessee theater that decided it was “insensitive” to many in the local community.
The 1939 movie, which marked the first Oscar win by a black actor, depicts a romanticized view of slavery and life on a Southern plantation before, during and after the Civil War.
“Gone With the Wind,” which won 10 Academy Awards in 1940, including for best picture, had been shown by the Orpheum Theatre Group for years as part of an annual Summer Movie Series, according to Memphis’ Commercial-Appeal. At times, it was screened more than once a year, the paper said. This year, however, a different climate prevailed.
“The recent screening of ‘Gone With the Wind’ at the Orpheum on Aug. 11, generated numerous comments,” Brett Batterson, president of the theater group, said Friday in a statement via the New York Times.
“The Orpheum carefully reviewed all of them. As an organization whose stated mission is to ‘entertain, educate and enlighten the communities it serves,’ the Orpheum cannot show a film that is insensitive to a large segment of its local population.”
The majority of Memphis residents are black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The screening happened, coincidentally, on the day before a rally of white nationalists that turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia – a rally that has been followed by a national conversation about whether to purge monuments to Civil War generals and soldiers from public spaces.
In an interview with the Commercial-Appeal, Batterson said the appropriateness of screening “Gone With the Wind” had been discussed “every year,” but “the social media storm this year really brought it home.”
By Monday, comments on social media, including on the Facebook post announcing the screening, had shifted in large part to defense of “Gone With the Wind” as a product of its time that, despite its romanticized portrayal of the Old South and of slavery, was still part of movie history and worth showing on a big screen.
The Orpheum did not respond Monday to The Times’ requests for comment.
Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar win for supporting actress was a significant first but was also “loaded with a lot of political and racial issues given that the film was the classic archetype of the Mammy,” said Adilifu Nama, associate professor of African American Studies at Loyola Marymount University, speaking to The Times in 2014.
McDaniel’s role of Mammy “is fundamentally a subservient role and is part of a film that is a Southern racial fantasy,” Nama said.
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