In Gone With the Wind, the “Lost Cause” motif is present throughout the film. The author, Melanie Mitchell, admitted that the work was a propaganda piece that was intended to be “the Southern response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”* Mitchell depicts life in the South as a paradise for wealthy white southerners on their plantations where blacks were more than happy to take a subservient role to appease their white masters.** The film was given top billing and became one of the most successful films of all time – and remains a classic.*** In adapting the novel to the big screen, many of the more controversial scenes in the book were eliminated and Southern vigilante groups are referred to as “political meetings” in the script – and occur off screen. For a person looking to find an accurate portrayal of the time period – Gone With the Wind is not the place to look.
The National Film Registry at the Library of Congress is responsible for the preservation of films that are deemed to be culturally significant and to ensure their survival for future generations. Among the films enshrined are The Birth of a Nation, which from the Chadwick article we learn is another propaganda film extolling the virtues of the “Lost Cause”, as well as Gone With the Wind. These films are enshrined alongside such films as To Kill a Mockingbird and the biopic Malcolm X.**** However there is one work that is not included in the list – that is Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Since Gone With the Wind was intended to be a Southern propaganda piece meant to retort Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one may wonder how much acclaim Uncle Tom’s Cabin has received in the community. Uncle Tom’s Cabin saw much of its success in the form of minstrel shows and early silent films. These often had African-Americans depicted by whites wearing blackface and the 1927 silent film version was, at the time, the most expensive silent film made.*****
Gone With the Wind, the “Southern response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, is considered a visual masterpiece and remains one of the most successful films of all time. Uncle Tom’s Cabin has not had the same level of success in film. Stowe’s work has had overwhelming success in the literary field but not in the film medium. Why is this? What challenges exist in attempting a modern day adaptation of Stowe’s work?
* Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, 2001), 211.
** Chadwick, 191.
*** Chadwick, 187.
**** Library of Congress. National Film Registry. http://www.loc.gov/film/registry_titles.php [Accessed on June 13, 2012]
***** Stephen Railton, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin on Film: The Silent Era” , The University of Virginia . http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/interpret/exhibits/utconfilm/utconfilm.html [Accessed on June 14, 2012]