by Stacey Fearheiley
I saw Gone With the Wind for the first time when I was 12 years old, growing up in Tennessee. I was dragged there by one of my best friends. She had read the book and it was being shown on the big screen for the first time in years. So we went. And I fell in love.
From that moment until the last 15-20 years, any time I was asked my favorite movie, Gone With the Wind was the answer. Unreservedly.
After I saw the movie and crushed HARD on Clark Gable, I read the book ten times, at least. I bought everything I could that had to do with Gone With the Wind Gable, the search for Scarlett, Atlanta....anything at all. I fan-girled hard! But why?
I don't think there was just one reason. I think it was the perfect storm of puberty + beautiful alpha male + smart, sassy heroine who always gets what she goes for...eventually + gorgeous production values + soap opera story line = 1970's teenage white girl from the South dream!
In this week's podcast, Eric and I talk about 1939 and the plethora of really classic films that came out that year. We talk about Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and The Women, specifically. I mentioned why I hadn't made my daughters watch Gone With the Wind, even though I do still consider it a classic (hint: misogyny and racism). What I don't really go into is how I got to that decision. I will admit ... it was painful.
So what happened in the years since my adolescence to change my enthusiasm for this movie for which I had been obsessed? I guess I'd call it evolution. My life evolved. My point of view evolved. My world of acquaintances and experiences evolved. My thinking evolved. And there I was, educated past the point where I could truly accept and enjoy as entertainment this bit of a monument to the Old South.
Do I still love bits and pieces of the movie and story? I do. But my white privilege lets me. Now, I'm going to try to not get too political here. It is not about politics or right and left for me. It is about who I've become in the intervening decades. Let me explain.
I grew up in the late 1960's and 70's. In the afternoons I'd watch Gilligan's Island, Scooby Doo, Bewitched, and I Dream of Jeannie (I will always love you, Larry Hagman!). This was in the days of 3 networks + PBS on TV. In high school, cable channels became more abundant and accessible. More options and the 1950's and 60's TV "classics" were no longer shown. I went to college. I went to work. I traveled. And suddenly it's the late 20th Century, and there is a classic television show network showing I Love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver along w/my childhood faves.
So, as a 30 something year old, I sit down to watch ... to feel that same way again that I did as a kid; To laugh at Jeannie making a mess of Tony's life; To giggle when Samantha had to get Uncle Arthur out of a jam. So I watched. I didn't giggle. I didn't laugh. I certainly didn't feel that fun, free way I had as a child when watching Sam stifle her magic for Darren or Jeannie call Colonel Nelson "Master". It made my stomach hurt.
Now, I realize this is a long way to get to a point about Gone With the Wind. But that stomach churning/turning feeling was even more pronounced when I sat down to watch Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara on the big screen, when it came touring in our area in the 1990's. I no longer felt comfortable saying that it was my favorite movie ... certainly not around my African-American friends.
Because as beautiful as the dresses, cinematography, directing and acting are ... the story is painful. It's painful in its brushstrokes of misinformation. I cringe at the accents the black actors have to put on. I wince every time the "n" word and "d" word ("darkie") are dropped. And I get downright nauseous during the KKK scene where its very existence is rationalized as being only for the "safety" of the womenfolk.
But, Gone With the Wind is still a classic. It is, technically, film making at its very best. It lives in the time period in which it was created. I can accept that. I can respect that. But as a woman in 2017, "loving" this movie is now beyond me. I'm not sad, because I like where I am philosophically and how I think now. But I do miss the innocent feeling. You can't go home again. Wow ... sometimes evolution sucks.