December 15th, 2009
08:30 AM ET

'Gone with the Wind' still raises fuss after 70 years

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://www.cnn.com/2009/OPINION/12/15/haskell.gone.with.the.wind/story.gone.with.wind.afpgi.jpg caption="A woman dressed as Scarlett O'Hara poses in front of the home of "Gone with the Wind" author Margaret Mitchell."]

Editor's note: Molly Haskell is a writer and film critic living in New York. She grew up in Virginia and is the author of, among other books, "From Reverence to Rape: the Treatment of Women in the Movies."

Molly Haskell
Special to CNN

The premiere of "Gone with the Wind" took place in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 15, 1939, but not without a territorial struggle of its own, a war between the states of California and Georgia.

Producer David O. Selznick of course wanted it in Hollywood. But William B. Hartsfield, the feisty mayor of Atlanta, with a rampant Junior League and the full force of its citizenry behind him, argued it was "their" story and won the day.

Selznick was terrified that he and the hyper-glittery event would be ridiculed by Northerners. Margaret Mitchell, by then a Pulitzer Prize winner and long past her scapegrace flapper days, was terrified the movie would be a vulgar travesty, embarrassing her in front of her friends.

It was, of course, a triumph - for the South it was like a sweet vindication for their humiliation at the hands of Sherman's army. For Selznick, the biggest gamble of his life would go on to win 10 Oscars and become a success beyond his wildest dreams. In its day the longest and most expensive film ever made, it had cost $4,250,000 to produce. It would go on to become a global hit and, with dollars adjusted for inflation, it remains the biggest blockbuster of all time.

But the tensions and ironies present at the premiere were an indication of fault lines that, without ever completely tarnishing the film as an audience favorite, would plague its 70-year history. How could it not be so in a movie that told "our" nation's history, the Civil War and Reconstruction, from the unreconstructed South's point of view?

A hundred-thousand people turned out on a bitter cold night and there were bands on every street and old men marching in Confederate uniforms. The stars arrived in full force ... the white ones, that is.

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Filed under: Pop Culture • Race in America
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Linda B., Ga.

    GWTW is 2nd in my book to The Sound of Music. I watch GWTW at least once a year, along with TSOFM.......They are my top 2 favs and are both wonderfully made 🙂

    December 15, 2009 at 3:31 pm |
  2. Carol B.

    This is an interesting blog. Selznick's Gone with the Wind, with Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh was a product of it's time, just as D.W. Griffith's Birth of a nation, with Lillian Gish was also. Any current day sympathies for confederate days of yore may seem racist and displaced, depending on how far an individual or group may use it as a political platform.

    December 15, 2009 at 3:20 pm |
  3. terry horn

    Yeah, Im a gone with the wind'er too. Its still popular today because like, Cecil B. Demille's 10 commandments, or Citizen Kane, it was blessed with a great story line , superbly written, and everyone could relate to it. And It had Great actors and actresses.I dare say It would be hard to find that quality in Hollywood today. Thank you Margaret Mitchell , Where ever you are!

    December 15, 2009 at 3:12 pm |
  4. Tammy, Houma, LA

    Get a grip. While Mammy may not be serving the Ole Miss of the plantation, don't kid yourselves into thinking the South isn't racially divided. Or the rest of the nation for that matter. Look at disparities in housing, healthcare, education, job availability, and police protection. Look at New Orleans in the days, months, and years since Katrina. Look at who lives in upper end buildings in places like NYC and then look at who sells pretzels on the street corner. We're a far cry from equality, and one movie is the least of our problems.

    December 15, 2009 at 3:03 pm |
  5. Tim Gibson

    Gone with the Wind is one of my all time favorite movies and is a part of my video library, as from time to time I need a Gone with the Wind moment. To look back at how life was and how it is today.

    To pick apart a classic for any reason other than what it is would be wrong on all fronts. We need to all get a grip on life and get beyond the wrappings and more involved in real life.

    December 15, 2009 at 12:11 pm |
  6. chris

    Being so politically correct is getting out of control. I understand that there are moments in life where holding back a little is necessary. However when it comes to telling history it is important to be as accurate as possible. At the rate we are changing the way we say things as to not offend, we are voluntarily giving our free speech away bit by bit. Besides this American classic was made 70 years ago so what is the big deal? Terrorist certainly don't censor the ways they kill our men and women and other innocent lives around the world. There is censorship, and then there is c&n%o^ship. Got it?

    December 15, 2009 at 11:32 am |
  7. Geri Greene

    This writer must have been paid by the word to construct an essay – used a whole lot of words to say little. The film is classic – the cinematic stretch set new heights and it has stood the test of time. Few movies from that era are still in the public's eyes and heart. Picking apart the politics of the time is missing the message of the movie.

    December 15, 2009 at 11:10 am |
  8. Mike in NYC

    When I finally got around to seeing the film, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. it was incredibly well-made. It was also very true to history.

    Contrary to what I had been led to expect, the black characters were portrayed sympathetically, with depth. Sure, there was the scatterbrained maid, but she was still likable, and there was no shortage of venal whites. They were mostly Northerners, but hey, I've got no problem with that. Many who went South after the war really were despicable vultures preying on misery.

    December 15, 2009 at 10:50 am |