Growing up in the South, Gone With the Wind, was required viewing. I first saw this film in 1967 at the age of eight. As a teenager, I again watched this classic. GWTW was even shown in school classrooms to depict the historic era of the “War Between the States” and Reconstruction. As described by Bruce Chadwick in The Reel Civil War, most southerners viewed this movie more as a documentary than a fictional romantic movie. Chadwick goes on to address the “four-pronged presentation of the Plantation Myth . . . 1) All white Southerners owned plantations 2) White Southerners and slaves took care of each other 3) The North was responsible for the war and 4) the South was and is devastated by the war.” * In addition GWTW presented the “Lost Cause” in a “matter-of-fact” methodology that seemed to acceptable to the majority of Americans; not just Southerners. (Minority acceptance is another issue.) The problems, viewed with a modern perspective, are glaring. The humiliating depiction of African Americans is outrageous by today’s standards. The villainization of the North and the depiction of the “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags” are over-the-top and insulting. Even Southerners are viewed as naive, backward, and victims. In Chadwick addresses many of these issues and how they were more acceptable in the 1930s and 40s. However, several of his explanations fall short of convincing. The author stated that the producer of GWTW , David O. Selznick, desired to keep the KKK out of the movie. However, even as a teen, I understood that Ashley Wilkes and Frank Kennedy were riding with the Klan on the raid on the Shantytown. Chadwick also downplayed the harsh treatment of “carpetbaggers,” “scalawags,” and blacks. The film certainly presented these groups negatively. (Perhaps not as harshly as the novel.) Even the street scene that Chadwick described blacks as nonthreatening is inaccurate. The fact that blacks were taking up space on the sidewalk would have been considered threatening by southerners and others during the first showing of the film and, for many, in the 1960s redistribution. The author’s description of the admirable Mammy as the one who ran Tara falls shallow when one considers that Mammy wasn’t allowed to dine with her white “family” or attend parties. Mammy “knew her place.”
It is difficult to overstate the impact of Gone With the Wind upon the popular view and understanding of the Civil War and Reconstruction. As a southerner, growing up with the perspective of “The Lost Cause,” it is difficult for me to analyze this impact. Did this film influence the nation and their view of these eras or did popular views of the time shape the presentation and depiction of the movie?