Defenders of 'Gone With the Wind' allow license they deny others, ignore history

July 05, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

TODAY, READERS, I will feature reaction from some of you to my column about that despicable dreck of a movie "Gone With the Wind."

Susan Fanske of Ellicott City wrote:

GWTW "should be interpreted and left for the literary work that it is, a love story taking place with the Civil War as a background. I think it is no more historically correct than James Cameron's 'Titanic,' which is also a love story first. Please don't read more into the story than what is there and let the author have his/her own literary license."

Leslie Cale sent in an e-mail:

"I think you may be a bit off the mark with GWTW. I agree the movie is dated, but so are a lot of movies considered classics. Perhaps the movie didn't show how blacks were involved in the Civil War -- but that's not what the movie is about. I thought it was about the love story, of course, and about how the Civil War affected one particular spoiled white Southerner. And when Rhett said anything stupid, like about 'mindless darkies,' I just assumed the character was expressing the character's opinion, not that the moviemakers agreed with him. Just as when Malcolm X said something disparaging about whites in Spike Lee's movie, it was Malcolm X giving his opinion, not Spike Lee. Wait a minute, maybe that's a bad example."

Bill Newhall of Baltimore wrote:

"Let me point out that [GWTW] does not pretend to be a documentary. It is not a Civil War history, it is just the period in which Rhett and Scarlett acted out their unfortunate relationship. The Civil War is merely the background, and if it is painted badly, it doesn't matter.

"The roles of the servants were the roles of those who chose to remain with their former masters -- there truly were such people. This is their story -- not someone else's story. As for Mr. Butler's offensive and racist attitudes, they make perfect sense. Mr. Butler is racist and offensive.

"The feeling I am left with after having read that particular column is that you purposefully set out to be offended and had to grasp at straws of invented indignation in order to defend yourself."

Wrong, Newhall. GWTW genuinely offends. It offends from the opening credits to the last line. Stephen Hunter, former Sun film critic now with the Washington Post, said pretty much the same thing in last Sunday's Post. "The most overrated film of all time," Hunter called GWTW. He counted 28 other films made in 1939 that were better than GWTW. And I get the feeling Hunter just stopped counting at 28. There would have been serious flaws to this movie even if there had been no blacks in it at all, and Lord knows, I wish there weren't.

Jonathan Jensen of Parkville addressed the double standard between Rhett Butler's reference to "mindless darkies" and Michael Jackson's use of "kike" in his song "They Don't Care About Us":

"To equate Rhett's line with Michael Jackson's deliberate slur," he wrote, "strains logic."

No, it doesn't. Every writer above suggested or said outright that the producer, director and writers of GWTW had artistic license to have Rhett Butler utter the phrase "mindless darkies." And, if any of them recall my column, I specifically said that my problem wasn't so much with the line but with the double standard applied to Jackson. Jensen implies that Jackson shouldn't have the artistic license he so willingly grants to David O. Selznick and the GWTW horde. He even goes so far as to say Jackson made a deliberate slur, which shows he -- and, I suspect, many others -- hasn't even listened to the song.

Jackson's song is an attack on racism. His line "Jew me, kike me, don't black or white me" is an appeal to not do to blacks and other people what has historically been done to Jews. It certainly isn't intended in the derogatory way "darkies" is used in GWTW.

Finally, let's address this notion that I'm picking on GWTW. I'm applying the standards to it I apply to other movies. I didn't like Eddie Murphy's "Harlem Nights" because every white in it is portrayed as racist, stupid or both. I didn't like TNT's "Buffalo Soldiers," produced by black actor Danny Glover, because it showed members of the all-black 9th Cavalry as having the Apache leader Victorio in their sights and then letting him walk lTC into Mexico. I didn't care for Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" because Lee failed to show the main reason for the rift between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad -- how the Nation of Islam should have responded to an April 1962 police shooting of Muslims in Los Angeles -- and implied that Muhammad's secretaries filed paternity suits against Muhammad while Malcolm was still in the Nation of Islam. In truth, the suits were filed with Malcolm X's encouragement and after he left the Nation of Islam.

Don't hand me any of this "historical event as background" nonsense. Using a historical event as a background is no excuse for mutilating history.

Pub Date: 7/05/98

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