But this thoughtful, measured response is precisely what was called for by Ridley – who wrote the 2013 historical drama 12 Years a Slave. Like most film lovers, he didn’t want Gone With the Wind shut away “in a vault somewhere”. Rather, he was calling for added context, and an acknowledgment that the images, assumptions and values embedded in a moonlight-and-magnolias epic that for decades reigned supreme as America’s favourite blockbuster should no longer be blithely accepted as “just a movie”.
It’s an argument that many historians, critics and filmgoers have been making for a long time – myself included. In 2017, a Memphis cinema announced it would cancel its annual screening of Gone With the Wind the following year, after receiving complaints from some audience members. The 2017 screening took place right before a march by white supremacists in Charlottesville led activists around the country to call for the removal of statues honouring Confederate leaders.
As I wrote at the time, those statues weren’t great art – they were propagandistic kitsch. But Gone With the Wind couldn’t be dismissed as easily. “What if every repertory presentation of [Gone With the Wind] could be accompanied by conversations with historians, critics, activists?” I wrote. “What if we re-sited [it] away from commercial multiplexes and into libraries, museums, cinematheques? What if we dared to contend honestly with our most shameful and enduring cultural legacies rather than wishing them away or erasing them outright?”
Gone With the Wind, let it be said again, isn’t cancelled. It’s simply being reframed. Viewers who love the movie can still see it. Those of us with more complicated feelings can feel gratified that, in one small corner of the movie universe at least, its most troubling contradictions might be confronted with honesty and nuance.