The damaging effects of Hollywood racism | Daily News


The damaging effects of Hollywood racism

Gone-with-the-wind-hbo-max.jpg = Hattie McDaniel and Vivien Leigh in 'Gone With the Wind'
Gone-with-the-wind-hbo-max.jpg = Hattie McDaniel and Vivien Leigh in 'Gone With the Wind'

There is a scene in 1974’s underground blaxploitation-era film ‘The Spook Who Sat by the Door’ where a group of black militants comically mock the ubiquity of ‘Gone With the Wind’-like imagery that is so embedded within American culture. As the others laugh out loud at the performative racism essential to this historical representation, the film’s main character, Freeman, expounds on the larger meaning of such things: “You have just played out the American Dream. And now we’re going to turn it into a nightmare.”

The nightmare that Freeman spoke about is upon us. As the streets pulsate with protest following the killing of George Floyd and numerous other acts of police violence and racial hostility, those restless souls, having been cooped up due to Covid-19 in recent months, have found their voice. Demands for structural and institutional change abound. Corporations, professional sports leagues, brands, and other business and cultural entities have been issuing statements left and right, while others have taken actions that may have been unimaginable in previous times. One of those actions involves HBO temporarily pulling Gone With the Wind from its recently launched HBO Max lineup. With a statement which articulates that the film’s “depictions are certainly counter to WarnerMedia’s values” HBO said the civil war epic is not gone forever but that it will return with new material added for the purpose of providing context and addressing the film’s historical shortcomings.

For years now activists have been attempting to cancel the Confederate flag and eliminate other monuments to the fallen Confederacy, along with removing the names of former slave owners and white supremacists that continue to adorn buildings on various school and college campuses, among numerous other attempts to destroy the legacy of the slaveholding south that was supposed to have died with the end of the civil war. We can now add films celebratory of this defeated legacy like Gone With the Wind to the list as well.

Of course there will be those who cry foul, who suggest that this is nothing more than politically correct censorship. Once again though such voices will simply be doing what James Brown once described as, “talkin’ loud and sayin’ nothing”. Removing those things that honor and celebrate racists is not erasing history. Instead this is holding history accountable, while providing necessary context.

The south supposedly lost the civil war. There is an overused cliche which suggests that the winners write history. Is this true? If it is, then why do all these relics of the losing side still circulate in this society so many years after the civil war ended? The point is, films like Gone With the Wind should have been held accountable a long time ago. Further, Hollywood’s role in disseminating such demeaning, dehumanized, stereotypical images can no longer be ignored.

‘Gone With the Wind’ is a descendant of DW Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’ from 1915, the foundation that American cinema is built upon, a film that screened at the White House, prompting President Woodrow Wilson to declare it “history written in lightning”. It was celebrated for its technological mastery of visual storytelling, yet its narrative is nothing more than racist propaganda. The heroes of the film are the Ku Klux Klan who ride in at the appropriate climactic moment to save the day. The Birth of a Nation is at the root, so if racism is at the root, the fruit that emerges from this tainted root can only be the fruit of racism.

Further, American cinema helped to spread the fictional “lost cause” narrative that has attempted to rewrite history while transforming the terrorism of slavery into something much less real, though much more palatable to certain white audiences. The idea of a “lost cause” originally emerged in the period after Reconstruction. The Guardian

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