And sadly no, there was no Clark Gable there to say people just don’t give a damn.
Breaking from a 34-year-old tradition, the popular Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee, announced this Saturday that it will be canceling all further screenings of Victor Fleming’s film, Gone With the Wind (1939), due to patron backlash from a screening earlier this year.
The theater company provided a statement to Entertainment Weekly which reads:
“While title selections for the series are typically made in the spring of each year, the Orpheum has made this determination early in response to specific inquiries from patrons. The Orpheum appreciates feedback on its programming from all members of the mid-south community. The recent screening of Gone With the Wind at the Orpheum on Friday, August 11, 2017, generated numerous comments. The Orpheum carefully reviewed all of them.”
Those comments seem to have stemmed from the theatre’s Facebook page, which saw several posts made that the film, set during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods, contained content that was “insensitive”, “racist” and “white supremacist sympathising”.
Other posts frequently mentioned the “damage that could be done” from further screenings, citing the violent Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month.
The Facebook page then saw several counter posts saying the decision was “politically correct garbage” and showed the company were “being bullied by their customers into restricting free expression”.
The president of Orpheum, Brett Batterson, then released a follow up statement to The Commercial Appeal as follows:
“The recent screening of Gone With the Wind at the Orpheum on Friday, August 11, 2017, generated numerous comments”.
“The Orpheum carefully reviewed all of them… As an organization whose stated mission is to ‘entertain, educate and enlighten the communities it serves,’ the Orpheum cannot show a film that is insensitive to a large segment of its local population.”
The film, which saw the first African American win an Academy Award for Hattie McDaniel’s portrayal of the house servant Mammy, has been mixed in the “is it racist or not?” debate for decades, and I, frankly, view Batterson’s decision as a missed opportunity.
Entertain, educate and enlighten?
You can’t do that by bleaching cinematic history from your screens.
There’s no learning if you’re not there to bloody see anything.
I happen to agree with the perspective of Victory Girls writer Toni Williams, laying out the expanded conversation this film could have brought home.
Why not invite speakers on all sides to address the historical accuracy or inaccuracy of the film?
Why not explore the perspectives of black and white actors and directors on the films place in race relations?
Why are you so scared of these moving pictures?
The controversy gets a little saddening when you look into the history of producer David O. Selznick, who Breitbart uncovered, actually went out of his way to avoid offending audiences of all colours, wanting to consult black leaders of that time to ensure the film was not insensitive, hoping to avoid the obtuse injustice made by the likes of Birth Of A Nation.
After all, it was Selznick himself who forced Fleming never to use the N-word in the film, and wrote a letter to the NAACP president (in admittedly insensitive 1940’s language) of his approach to the film.
“As a member of a race that is suffering very keenly from persecution these days,” – Selznick being a Jewish man during the time of Nazi Germany – “I am most sensitive to the feelings of minority peoples”, citing composer Hall Johnson as a respected individual he wished to touch base with.
The NAACP writing back thanking Selznick for hoping to avoid errors with, as they said (not me), “a Negro who is qualified to check on possible errors of fact of interpretation.”
These facts, which paint a grey picture of the classic film industry, could have been very valuable to the broader discussion of Gone With The Wind, and yet that opportunity is gone too.
Instead, Batterson believes the film’s popularity “has leveled off” and the Orpheum will be “announcing an exciting movie series in the spring of 2018 that will, as always, contain both classic films and more recent blockbusters”.
I guess that’s just our misfortune.