The move comes as media companies reappraise content in light of nationwide protests over police brutality and systemic racism after the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by Minnesota police. Earlier on Tuesday, Paramount Network canceled the long-running police reality show Cops.
Long considered controversial for its depiction of Black people and its positive view of slavery, Gone With the Wind faced renewed scrutiny after an op-ed by 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley published in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. In the op-ed, Ridley called on HBO Max to “consider removing” Gone With the Wind from its platform as the film had its “own unique problem.” “It doesn’t just ‘fall short’ with regard to representation. It is a film that glorifies the antebellum South. It is a film that, when it is not ignoring the horrors of slavery, pauses only to perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color,” Ridley wrote.
He added: “It is a film that, as part of the narrative of the ‘Lost Cause,’ romanticizes the Confederacy in a way that continues to give legitimacy to the notion that the secessionist movement was something more, or better, or more noble than what it was — a bloody insurrection to maintain the “right” to own, sell and buy human beings.”
HBO Max said Gone With the Wind will eventually return to the service with a “discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions” of Black people and slavery.
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, a HBO 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. These depictions are certainly counter to WarnerMedia’s values, so when we return the film to HBO Max, it will return with a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions, but will be presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise 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.”
Released in 1939, Gone With the Wind told the love story of Southern aristocrats Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler and starred Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Hattie McDaniel and Olivia de Havilland. The film, based on the 1936 best-selling book by Margaret Mitchell, takes place in the American South, on a plantation outside Atlanta in the Civil War era. Both the book and film feature Black characters who seem content and loyal to their former owners even after the abolition of slavery in the South.
Directed by Victor Fleming, the four-hour epic would go on to become one of the highest-grossing films in history and win eight Oscars at the 12th Academy Awards, including best Picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, best actress and best supporting actress for McDaniel for her portrayal of Mammy, a house servant on the Tara plantation.
McDaniel was the first Black person to win an Oscar, but due to racial segregation at the ceremony she sat separately from her Gone With the Wind co-stars, at a table in the back of the room.
June 9, 9:50 p.m. Updated with statement from HBO Max.