Race and Economy

Some old films will come with a racism warning, but is it too little, too late?

Jasmine Garsd Jun 22, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) kisses the hand of a tearful Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) in "Gone With the Wind." Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Race and Economy

Some old films will come with a racism warning, but is it too little, too late?

Jasmine Garsd Jun 22, 2020
Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) kisses the hand of a tearful Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) in "Gone With the Wind." Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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For millions of people, “Gone With the Wind” is stunning dresses, mustachioed gentlemen and campy drama.

But, for many Americans, this movie conjures the image of “Mammy,” a happy and loyal Southern slave, played by Hattie McDaniel, who won an Oscar for that role. The film glosses over the horrors of slavery. 

In the last few weeks, several historic films have come under increased scrutiny. Movies like “Gone With the Wind” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” which are considered classics, but also contain painful portrayals of people of color.

When “Gone With the Wind” premiered in Atlanta in 1939, audiences “were basically just confirmed in everything that they believed,” said Professor Greg Garrett from Baylor University. “There’s this very strong mythology about how slavery was not onerous or torturous.” 

Scarlett O'Hara runs through the street, filled with horses and men, in this promotional poster for the book 'Gone With the Wind,' 1936.
A promotional poster for “Gone With the Wind.” (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“Gone With the Wind” went on to become one of the greatest box office hits of all time. But in light of ongoing protests against racial inequality, HBO pulled the movie from its platform and will only make it available again with a historical explanation. 

HBO is not alone. British network Sky recently added a label to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” long accused of racist portrayals of Asians, warning viewers that it contains “outdated attitudes and language.”

Disney+ has similar labels on movies like “Dumbo” and “The Jungle Book.”

Garret said a label, or an explanation, “actually is pushing against the white privilege and that filter, where white people are like “well this is just the way things are.”

Not everyone agrees. Professor Mia Mask of Vassar College said the discussion about what to do about “Gone With the Wind” “amounts to window dressing. Because when I talk to 20-somethings, and even millennials, many of them have never seen ‘Gone With the Wind.’ And so they’re really wondering why it’s even relevant to Black Lives Matter.” 

A more significant change, in her opinion, would happen “by hiring and supporting not only more artists of color, but more professionals of color.” These changes would mean a cultural and economic shift.

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