HBO Max Temporarily Removes “Gone With The Wind” Until It Addresses Racist Themes

The streaming platform has temporarily removed the 1939 American classic and will re-add once “historical context and a denouncement of [racist] depictions” are included.

Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel pose for a publicity shot for "Gone With The Wind." Getty Images.

HBO Max has temporarily removed wildly popular film “Gone With The Wind” from its streaming service after a call for the platform to give context around the film’s depiction of slavery in the Confederate south. 

On Monday, “12 Years A Slave” screenwriter John Ridley wrote an op-ed in the LA Times calling on HBO to remove the 1939 American classic film from its new streaming platform, HBO Max, until it can add a “warning or disclaimer” about the movie’s controversial themes. The criticism of the film comes as nationwide demonstrations against systemic racism have erupted across the U.S. in the wake of George Floyd’s death. 

“At a moment when we are all considering what more we can do to fight bigotry and intolerance, I would ask that all content providers look at their libraries and make a good-faith effort to separate programming that might be lacking in its representation from that which is blatant in its demonization,” Ridley wrote. 

The Civil War-era film has long been held in high regard in the entertainment industry, and is the highest-grossing movie of all time (with inflation considered). It won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, and appeared in theaters three more times after its initial release. But over the last few decades, critics have questioned the high regard for the film, citing its problematic depiction of slaves and of a marital rape scene. 

“As a filmmaker I get that movies are often snapshots of moments in history. They reflect not only the attitudes and opinions of those involved in their creation, but also those of the prevailing culture,” Ridley wrote in his op-ed. “‘Gone With the Wind,’ however, is its own unique problem. It doesn’t just ‘fall short’ with regard to representation… It is a film that, when it is not ignoring the horrors of slavery, pauses only to perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color.”

Ridley wrote that he doesn’t “believe in censorship,” but asks that “the film be re-introduced to the HBO Max platform along with other films that give a more broad-based and complete picture of what slavery and the Confederacy truly were.” 

Soon after, HBO pulled the movie from its streaming platform until it can provide historical context and “a denouncement of its racist depictions,” Variety reported.  

“These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible,” an HBO Max spokesperson told multiple outlets. “It will return with a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions, but will be presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”

The historic film stars Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Hattie McDaniel and Olivia de Havilland and takes place in Confederate-era Atlanta on a plantation. The depictions of Black people and slavery in the film have been criticized since its release. One group wrote to the production studio before its release and called the book which its based on a “glorification of the old rotten system of slavery, propaganda for race-hatreds and bigotry, and incitement of lynching,” according to a 1999 article in The Atlantic.

While it broke box office records, it was also the first film that a Black actor won an Oscar for. McDaniel won for her role as Mammy, the head slave on the plantation, but wasn’t allowed to sit with the rest of the cast during the award show, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The Cocoanut Grove nightclub in The Ambassador Hotel in LA hosted the Academy Awards in 1940, and did not allow Black people inside. McDaniel had to be escorted in and was placed at a table against the wall. 

“If we are to create a more just, equitable and inclusive future, we must first acknowledge and understand our history," the HBO Max spokesperson continued.