Marketplace Logo Donate

Daily business news and economic stories from Marketplace

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

Heard on:
Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) kisses the hand of a tearful Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) in "Gone With the Wind."

Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) kisses the hand of a tearful Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) in "Gone With the Wind." Hulton Archive/Getty Images

get the podcast

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.” 

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a label to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” long accused of racist portrayals of Asians, warning viewers that it contains “outdated attitudes and language.”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.

What's Next

Latest Episodes From Our Shows

6:12 PM PDT
4:14 PM PDT
1:39 PM PDT
7:55 AM PDT
Oct 5, 2022
Sep 29, 2022
Aug 9, 2022
Exit mobile version