As I spend the weekend putting the finishing touches on a web course on the Reconstruction Era, I am reminded of this moving speech by film star Hattie McDaniel, the first black person ever to be awarded the Academy Award. In the course, the final segment engages history and popular culture – in particular the film, Gone With the Wind. I focus on McDaniel’s portrayal of Mammy as well as a few notes on the actress herself. She was a fascinating woman off screen – a outspoken supporter of civil rights, she once lobbied the city of Los Angeles to purchase a home in an exclusive all-white neighborhood. Please take a moment to watch this clip – what does it suggest to you about race, historical memory, and Hollywood in 1940?
PS – the course will be live the week of January 18, 2016
Not too long ago, The American Experience Facebook page posted about the 1939 film, Gone With the Wind. Noting that the movie catered to southern sensibilities AE pointed out the film took the nation by storm. And indeed it did. This was one of the most anticipated films of the 20th century, it was a huge box office smash and it dominated the Academy Awards. But moving on…if you want to experience the polarization of America in real time, just go to the AE page and scroll through the comments in this post. There are two general themes here. One, the film is racist and should be dismissed as such. Two, it’s just a movie (and a great one at that) and we should get over it.
I’ll admit that many of the scenes in this film depicting black people are offensive. Slavery appears entirely benign and the “servants” seem all too eager to please. There are even hints of the Klan in the film (Margaret Mitchell was quite specific in her novel…David O. Selznick thought it best not to name names in the movie version).
Yes indeed – racism. But should the conversation end there? Should we evaluate the film in the context of the era? I feel that we might serve the American public better to do so – at least the ones on Facebook. The seem to need it…from where I sit its just insult hurling and finger pointing. I am interested in your thoughts…so feel free to weigh in.
PS – see picture above. Yes, they made a mistake. Twelve Oaks was NOT the O’Hara Plantation.
Back when I was teaching a course on Reconstruction at UCR, we discussed a few scenes from Gone With the Wind. The discussion included Hattie McDaniel’s portrayal of Mammy as well as a few notes on the actress herself. She was a fascinating woman off the screen – a outspoken supporter of civil rights, she once lobbied the city of Los Angeles to purchase a home in an exclusive all-white neighborhood. We watched her Academy Award acceptance speech for her role as Mammy as well. What does this suggest to you about race, historical memory, and Hollywood in 1940?
Yesterday, after a lively exchange between historians on Twitter, several of us decided to have some sort of Internet discussion concerning part or all of the 1939 blockbuster Civil War era film, Gone With the Wind. Many of us in the teaching/historian professions have used this film as a teaching tool. It packs quite the educational punch – for any number of topics.
I plan on figuring out some sort of way to host a live Gone With the Wind panel discussion and broadcast it for anyone to see and join in the conversation. But for now we can talk here.
Today I offer a compelling scene – one that was intended to demonstrate the tragedy of the Confederate war. The scene touches many Lost Cause bases, including a score infusing southern patriotic songs with a minor note here and there. Subtle, I know.
At any rate, feel free to discuss at length in the comment section below.
Well, Scarlett – I’m afraid Tara is gone…long gone. And it never stood in Georgia either. But it did eventually (sort of) make it there. Yes indeed – the old Tara set, really just a facade, stood for quite some time in a horrible state of disrepair on a David O. Selznick studio back lot in Culver City, California. And it remained there after the lot changed hands from Selznick to RKO to Desilu.
In 1959, the set was dismantled and shipped to Atlanta for use in a theme park that never came to be – the plywood and paper pieces were stored in a barn for years, where – as the story goes – they deteriorated beyond any usefulness to anyone. I know not what became of the remnants. For all anyone knows, they still rot away in some barn in Georgia. Tara’s front door and the large oil painting of Scarlett have found a home in Atlanta…at the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum.
For all of you film buffs, the old Selznick Studios main building still stands – now the Culver Studios – in Culver City. The building was used in the film, but only during the credits as the backdrop for the David O. Selznick logo.The entryway was used for the formal walk up to Scarlett and Rhett’s new Atlanta home and is virtually unchanged. You won’t see the building, though – it was covered by a giant matte painting. Below is a video clip of Culver Studios today