I think GWTW is perhaps the greatest example of cinematic art in American film. Scripting, costuming, cinematography, scoring, grandness, emotional impact. I do not think you’ll find a purely American film that is better in the eighty-on years since its release. I understand the sad irony of having Hattie McDaniel’s wonderful performance shaded by any restricting of this movie. But I will add these bits of information about her award.
Loew’s Grand Theater on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia was selected by the studio as the site for the Friday, December 15, 1939 premiere of Gone with the Wind. Studio head David O. Selznick asked that McDaniel be permitted to attend, but MGM advised him not to, because of Georgia’s segregation laws. Clark Gable threatened to boycott the Atlanta premiere unless McDaniel were allowed to attend, but McDaniel convinced him to attend anyway.
McDaniel received a plaque-style Oscar, approximately 5.5 inches (14 cm) by 6 inches (15 cm), the type awarded to all Best Supporting Actors and Actresses at that time. She and her escort were required to sit at a segregated table for two at the far wall of the room; her white agent, William Meiklejohn, sat at the same table. The hotel had a strict no-blacks policy, but allowed McDaniel in as a favor. The discrimination continued after the award ceremony as well as her white costars went to a “no-blacks” club, where McDaniel was also denied entry.
I believe that in terms of racist impact, GWTW is—and always has been—more dangerous than D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation.” Griffith’s film so powerfully exhibits the hatred, destruction, and vileness of racism that it delivers to any intelligent audience the exact reverse of the message Griffith intended. GWTW, however, does just the opposite. It paints this romanticized picture of a lovely south and a mostly benign image of slavery that makes it easy for people to accept the “Slavery wasn’t all bad, slaves were happy and well cared for…” illusion. Though it vividly depicts the destruction of slavery and the old south, it does so with a nostalgic sadness. It does little, if anything at all, to address the reality of slavery, or the Jim Crow era that followed. I don’t think the film is going to disappear, in the same way as Disney’s “Song of the South” rightfully did. I believe it may have a prologue and perhaps even an epilogue attached and still be available for purchase. It will undoubtedly be seen on University campuses and in film schools. But the sad reality is that as individuals, and societies, grow and mature, some things that were beloved along the way must be examined under a bright light recognized as the negative reality they hid, instead of the romanticized fantasies they presented.