Gone with the Wind Returns to HBO Max — with an Introduction Giving Historical Context
"Watching Gone with the Wind can be uncomfortable, even painful," Jacqueline Stewart says in the introduction. "Still, it is important that classic Hollywood films are available to us in their original form for viewing and discussion"
Gone with the Wind has returned to HBO Max after a temporary hiatus from the streaming platform, with an introduction providing historical context surrounding the film.
Jacqueline Stewart, a film professor and co-host of Turner Classic Movies, appears in the introduction that now precedes the movie, which was released in 1939 and remains the highest-grossing film of all time.
"You are about to see one of the most enduringly popular films of all time," Stewart says in the new introduction.
Stewart goes on to explain that although the movie, an adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's novel of the same name, won numerous awards and was a touchstone is cinematic history, it "was not universally praised."
"The film has been repeatedly protested, dating back to the announcement of its production," she says. "From its prologue, the film paints the picture of the Antebellum South as a romantic, idyllic setting that's tragically been lost to the past... The film follows the lead of Mitchell's novel, presenting the Antebellum South as a world of grace and beauty without acknowledging the brutalities of the system of chattel slavery upon which this world is based."
"The film represents enslaved Black people in accordance with longstanding stereotypes as servants notable for their devotion to their white masters, or for their ineptitude. And the film's treatment of this world through a lens of nostalgia denies the horrors of slavery as well as its legacies of racial inequality."
Stewart explained that Black cast members were not allowed to attend the movie's premiere in Georgia and that Hattie McDaniel — who became the first African American to win an Academy Award for her role — was not allowed to sit with her costars at the awards ceremony.
"Watching Gone with the Wind can be uncomfortable, even painful," Stewart says in the introduction. "Still, it is important that classic Hollywood films are available to us in their original form for viewing and discussion."
She pointed out that old movies "reflect the social context in which they were made, and invite viewers to reflect on their own values and beliefs when watching them now."
"Classic films have been and continue to be a major influence on popular views of history. Gone with the Wind in particular — with its landmark production values, signature scenes, and iconic characters — has shaped the way generations of viewers worldwide have pictured slavery and the reconstruction period that followed."
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"80 years after its original release, Gone with the Wind is a film of undeniable cultural significance," Stewart continues. "It is not only a major document of Hollywood's racist practices of the past, but also an enduring work of popular culture that speaks directly to the racial inequalities that persist in media and society today."
Stewart previously wrote an op-ed for CNN that watching the film could be an educational experience for viewers.
"For me, this is an opportunity to think about what classic films can teach us," Stewart wrote in the essay. "Right now, people are turning to movies for racial re-education, and the top-selling books on Amazon are about anti-racism and racial inequality. If people are really doing their homework, we may be poised to have our most informed, honest and productive national conversations yet about Black lives on screen and off."
"Some complained that taking the film down was a form of censorship. For others, seeing Gone with the Wind featured so prominently in HBO Max's launch felt like salt rubbed into wounds that have never been permitted to heal," the scholar wrote. "These wounds are reopened with every act of anti-Black violence, every delay in justice and every failure to acknowledge the extent of Black suffering."
"But it is precisely because of the ongoing, painful patterns of racial injustice and disregard for Black lives that Gone with the Wind should stay in circulation and remain available for viewing, analysis and discussion," she added.
In a statement to PEOPLE earlier this month, an HBO Max spokesperson said "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," the statement added.
HBO Max has not edited the movie to remove its racist depiction, the statement said, because amending it "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," the statement concluded.
Gone with the Wind is now streaming on HBO Max.
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
•Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
•ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
•National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.