The stereotypical view of Mammy during the 1930’s.

The portrayal of Mammy in the movie Gone with the Wind describes a caricature of a slave woman from the South. This caricature is a model for how Americans during the late 1930’s envisioned Civil War era South. The mammy of the movie represented a house slave that was devoted to the plantation mistress. The portrayal of the mammy represented fictional characters in movies and in literature such as in Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Gone with the Wind.  As expressed in the movie, Mammy is a person that acts as a mother figure for Scarlett O’Hara, but is conspicuously absent at other times. When Scarlett visits Rhett Butler in jail, accompaniment by her mammy legitimizes her visit. As Scarlett walks through Atlanta, Mammy serves as her protector, knocking away other Negros in order to make sure her charge is untouched and unharmed. However, as Scarlett goes in to Frank Kennedy’s general store, Mammy stays outside.  She and the other house slaves portrayed ignorant people who live to do their masters bidding, and do not know how to behave until they are told how to behave.

Hattie McDaniel, after playing Mammy in Gone with the Wind, was typecast as a housemaid for many other roles. She was quoted as saying, “Why should I complain about making seven thousand dollars a week playing a maid? If I didn’t I’d be making 7 dollars a week being a maid.”[1]

Americans during the late 1930’s also looked to black characters in negative roles. The musical Porgy and Bess portrayed African Americans living in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina.  The photo of the drunken black man appeared in The New Yorker in 1935. Still held in the grips of the Jim Crow era, African Americans were still being perceived as the fictional Mammie in Gone with the Wind.


[1]Donald Bogle. Toms, coons, mulattoes, mammies, and bucks: An interpretive history of Blacks in American films (New York, NY: Continuum) 1994, accessed from http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/mammies/ on 6/14/12.  hhttphttp://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/mammies/Co

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10 comments
  1. 10ectim said:

    The problem with Mammy is that she is viewed as a positive character and considered a good role for a black actress. The reason most whites viewed Mammy is that she “knew her place.” You will notice she did not dine at the table with Rhett and Scarlet. She may have been able to speak her mind more often but she knew where the lines were.

  2. jmmblog said:

    You quoted Hattie McDaniel as saying, “Why should I complain about making seven thousand dollars a week playing a maid? If I didn’t I’d be making 7 dollars a week being a maid.” This quote makes me wonder, if this is how the leading black actress felt she would be treated, How were the other black actors, who had even less significant roles, being treated and compensated in comparison to whites with similarly insignificant roles?

  3. Amanda Hlavacek said:

    I agree with you that this is stereotyping, however, this was consistent with the way African Americans were considered during the time period which was highly racist. African American perspectives were not considered during this time, and unfortunately not until much later. Other scholarly books written during this time period about the Civil War had little to no mention of slaves, so it was with supposition that these characters were created.

  4. bktitus17 said:

    I think your depiction of Mammy is spot on and the relation of how society depicted African Americans because of these type of roles.  I have to ask though, in that day and age, how was it supposed to change? If Hattie McDaniel was willing to continually  accept those type of roles, and even recently with The Help, how does that aide society in learning to stop typecasting certain ethnicities with certain roles? 

    • magaliq said:

      I see that several of the comments ask, what else was Hattie McDaniel supposed to do? I believe that she did the best that she could. She took the opportunity to better her own situation, just as any other American would have done. If other African Americans had the opportunity to make a better life for themselves during this era, I would hope they would have jumped at the chance and not feel guilty about it.

  5. catymark said:

    I think your thoughts of Mammy in the film are spot on, but what other possibilities were there for Hattie McDaniel to play? In a time when racism was the norm, films about minorities were simply not around. You quoted McDaniel as saying that she would rather make 7 grand a week playing a maid. Making that kind of money, McDaniel was probably one of the wealthiest African American women at the time. The pay discrepancy is the real stereotype magnified in this day and age of the film, though pay discrepancies still carry on today.

  6. magaliq said:

    How does typcasting stop? Look at how cowboys and indians were typecast for many years, and how we still picture them in our mind.(I think I remember Frank Sinatra playing an Indian in an old movie) I don’t think typecasting will change in movies until it is culturally acceptable.

  7. Kristen Epps said:

    Sometime you might be interested to read about Johnny Depp’s new role in The Lone Ranger. A blogger who is of Cherokee descent writes a blog called Native Appropriations that really takes Depp to task. I don’t have the link, but google “Native Appropriations and Depp” and it should pop up. It is related to Magali’s comment.

    • magaliq said:

      Well maybe I should eat my words!I read the article about Johnny Depp and his Tonto character. After looking at his photo, maybe it would be important to investigate how he should really be portrayed. Then maybe we wouldn’t have actors such as Depp playing a “native” with a bird on his head!

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