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"House Servant" = Slave

Looking back over some of the entries for last week's Best Shot episode (Gone With the Wind's first half) and chasing links here and there I found myself at The Anzrin Exchange a personal blog of Alison somebody. It's not a "best shot" piece but an essay written earlier this year about how Gone With the Wind is viewed now (especially in the wake of 12 Years a Slave) and how it has aged in terms of its racial politics and themes - which are entirely separate things though naturally they're in conversation, especially retroactively.

Back then, the world was a different place. There were Civil War veterans still living, the Holocaust was unknown, interracial marriage was illegal, and the Walt Disney Company was close to bankruptcy. A radically different time.

This is the argument that’s made to defend every racist Grandma at Thanksgiving, and it is the argument that "Gone With the Wind" apologists use to silence its detractors. There’s no denying that this is a film made by racists, for racists, about racists. But, while "12 Years a Slave" is explicitly about slavery, the "meaning" of "Gone With the Wind" has always been a little more fluid. Ultimately it's a movie about people who can’t let go, who ruin their lives by clinging to a past that does not want them anymore. This is true, whether we view that past as a hateful hell or rosy paradise.

In 2014, few people mourn the loss of the Old South, but we’re just as receptive to the idea that dwelling on the past can kill you. And that’s the theme of "Gone With the Wind," when you cut right down to its heart: The people who thrive are the ones who can let go of the past and take charge of their future, who can change.

The bold is mine for emphasis; that's a bluntly stated truth, but one that's easy to miss if we conflate all presentation with endorsement and shut out other ways of looking at the movie.  It's a really thoughtful engaging piece, particularly interesting when it comes to the performances of Hattie McDaniel's "Mammy" and Butterfly McQueen's "Prissy," so you should read it. (Hattie & Butterfly's billing as "House Servants," really struck me in the credits this time; that sure is a fancy guilt-easing euphemism for "Slaves," right?) 

And if you missed out on this week's Best Shot, there's still time to join us. Any late comers doing GWTW Part 2 (everything after the Intermission) can also do Part 1 and I'll add you in retroactively. We're reconvening on Tuesday night August 26th for the finale. 

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Reader Comments (5)

Wow! After clicking around the different Best Shot entries I also found myself reading the same article on the Anzrin Exchange and was instantly struck by her articulate, thought-provoking piece. I don't think she gets the online traffic she deserves, so I'm glad you have her a shoutout here, Nathaniel. I think that's cool of you :)

August 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTom

That was a great piece and it's certainly worth discussing her take on the movie with other people who've seen Gone with the Wind. There's also no denying the great acting by Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel, no matter how someone may feel about the movie overall.

August 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean T.

If I had been participating in Best Shot this time, I would have picked a Prissy moment, either her sashaying and singing her way along the picket fence or her getting slapped by Scarlett soon thereafter. Prissy is a funhouse-mirror version of a Southern belle (i.e., Scarlett herself).

August 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I would urge everyone to go back and read the book before lauding allison with discovering anything new. Margaret Mitchell created those characters and while the actors, along with the film makers, fleshed them out, they did not re-create or re-imagine.

I found the Anzin piece to be poorly written, very badly researched, simplistic and unbalanced....if it were meant to be taken seriously. If it was an attempt at comedic satire, it is still badly written, but closer to success. Melanie a lesbian? LOL

allison should read the source material before writing about it.

August 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

When the book was first published, many mistook the theme of the book as being unrequited love. Mitchell, however, was quick to point out that the theme was survival -- that the book was not about romance of the main characters, but how they survived and changed with the upheaval of the Civil War and Reconstruction. In this Mitchell's opus more closely aligns with the great 19th and 20th century Russian novelists who used a backdrop of social, economic and political upheaval as a catalyst for their characters' story arc.

August 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

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