Yes, “Gone With the Wind” is head-spinningly racist against black people. Even more so than I was expecting.
Being the Renaissance Man that I am, I have been watching Pokémon cartoons lately. In the cartoons, Pokémon are creatures that are smarter than animals but not as smart as people. By themselves, Pokémon are mere beasts. Their highest calling is to be captured by a human master and to do his bidding.
So, basically, black people in “Gone With the Wind” are portrayed as dutiful, docile Pokémon. Actually, I never saw an episode where Pikachu had to sit silently and fan Ash while he is napping. So I guess black people are treated a little worse than Pokémon.
“Gone With the Wind” is a brutally racist movie. But it’s also a unique character study.
Vivian Leigh is a force of nature as Scarlett O’Hara. The people who made this movie were brave visionaries to allow their leading lady to be this consistently bad. Scarlett is a charmless, graceless villainess. She’s driven by single-minded self-centeredness.
Scarlett’s only match in terms of intelligence, accomplishment, and force of will is Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). Rhett meets Scarlett before the war and immediately decides that he’s got to have her. Even as the world around them crumbles, Rhett’s desire to win Scarlett over remains strong.
Clark Gable is a splendid on-screen match for Vivian Leigh. Rhett is nearly as selfish and pig-headed as Scarlett. But Rhett exudes joyful rakish charm in contrast to Scarlett’s perpetual self-made unhappiness.
[Spoiler Alert…come to think of it, can you spoil a movie that has been out for 80 years?] The final hour was the most surprising for me. Of course Rhett and Scarlett finally get together. But instead of a happy ending, “Gone With the Wind” keeps it real. Rhett and Scarlett were doomed lovers from the start.
“You’ll never mean anything but misery to a man,” Rhett observes early on. He pays an ugly price for ignoring his own wisdom. And, make no mistake, Rhett is every bit as much to blame as Scarlett – he’s an abusive husband, verbally and physically. It is no fun to watch their marriage dissolve, but it is appropriate and honest.
Similarly, it is uncomfortable to watch the Civil War unfold with the Confederate States of America presented as the victim. But that, too, is appropriate and honest.
The facts are the facts: in 1861, a racist country where slavery was legal invaded a poorer, weaker racist country where slavery was legal. The USA conquered by force – killing, looting, and burning the CSA into total submission. You don’t have to root for the CSA, but I imagine that most viewers feel empathy for the maimed soldiers and homeless refugees.
“Gone With the Wind” is an extraordinary cinematic accomplishment. Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable have timeless charisma. But, truth be told, the movie isn’t THAT good. Besides Leigh and Gable, the rest of the cast overacts. And the sweeping, emotional musical score overwhelms some of the scenes.
Is it greater than it is racist? I don’t know, probably not. You could always skip “GWTW” and watch some adorable Pokémon cartoons instead.