The university actually changed the theme of the ball more than three weeks ago, a point that was overlooked in almost all but the first articles that came out regarding this issue. So, it begs the question, is it just a slow news week? Furthermore, my understanding of this "ball" is that the selected theme was more of a direction for decorations, not a directive for attire or attendance, because according to those who commented in previous articles, the ball is traditionally a black tie and ball gown affair, regardless of theme. Also, I learned that last year's ball was "The Great Gatsby." So, does the absence of minorities in a given story (even in celebration of the ultra-rich, much like the wildly popular British show Downton Abbey) make a proposed theme then acceptable for celebration? It's just a thought, as diversity is more than just skin color.
I can't help but wonder if the British tabloid writers and British tabloid commenters even realize that at the time GWTW was made, 3 of the 4 leading cast members were British? Obviously, the British film institute recognized it, because they celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vivien Leigh last year with nation-wide screenings of her films and a 4-month nation-wide re-release of GWTW that sold over 60% of the tickets!
Lately, people have been so wrapped up in their finger pointing of GWTW that virtually no one who has hastily generated pop culture articles against GWTW, has taken the time to even consider context of GWTW as book or film or has bothered to do research about the involvement David Selznick, a Russian Jew who was very sensitive to this subject, had in addressing slavery in the film, which included meeting with president of the NAACP during filming! I highly doubt anyone who has written these articles has requested the David Selznick memos from filming or even went so far as to research the involvement of the Hays board in the final product of the film. But, none of that is convenient to the modern story being portrayed about GWTW and its audience.
I have to wonder, how many people have stopped to consider why GWTW, a story widely referred to as a Civil War story, does not have one battle scene from the field depicted in it? It's because the story is about the women who were left behind during and after the war, to hold the family together and put their lives back together. These are the stories that are often lost and replaced for the battlefield stories. But GWTW has sustained a life for nearly 80 years. It wouldn't have lasted in film without the brilliance of Hattie McDaniel who definitely gives a performance that is more than just decoration, which is unfortunately what she was been minimized to by those who are writing about this film and yet know nothing about its production or the people who drove that production.
So, let's just address some absurdities of today! One of the highlights of Huffington Post UK article today (no author) was that the youtube video posted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to show that Hattie McDaniel had to walk from the back of the Coconut Grove ballroom to pick up her Oscar. I could not tell in the writing of the article if the authors understood that 1) those academy awards were in the state of California, not Georgia, 2) that Hattie was assigned her seat by the Academy Award planners, not the cast of GWTW, 3) the significance of even having this video, 74 years after the fact or 4) that virtually all videos that have been released by the Academy, especially prior to the awards being televised, were "edited" and that Hattie McDaniel's video is not some conspiracy to hide the segregation of the room.
I have seen it written in numerous places in recent months how horribly Hattie was treated by her castmates and then those authors reference the Academy Awards of 1940! Perhaps it has gone completely unnoticed by these enlightened souls that the Academy Awards were held in California, indicating racial segregation was pervasive throughout the country in 1940. Then there is the belief that somehow the cast of GWTW did this to Hattie on purpose and the idea is thrown about that somehow the cast is each and everyone personally responsible for her seat in the Coconut Grove on February 29, 1940. Everyone was assigned seats to the Academy Awards, just as they are today and using the Academy Awards to draw conclusions about the role of Mammy in GWTW is just ignorant and childish. I think many do not even realize the significance that we have this video today. It is extraordinarily special that we have this video, especially in light of the fact that the video of David O. Selznick receiving the best picture Oscar and the Irving Thalberg award either never existed or deteriorated.
In looking at other edited video from the 1940 awards and video up through the early television days, all of the videos are edited. For example, there is a rumor that Olivia de Havilland thanked 27 people during her first acceptance speech in 1947. However, all that I have been able to find on video is a very short and gracious speech where she thanks a few departments. So, implying some kind of conspiracy on the part of the Academy to hide Ms. McDaniel's location in the room is again, totally absurd and is indicative of the overall inability of those who are writing these articles to have any concept of the context of GWTW on any level, rendering their credibility questionable and their opinions childish.
"GWTW should be erased from the screen and history"
Discarding GWTW neither atones for history nor cures inequalities of today. The story cannot simply be discarded. Discarding the film or sweeping it under the rug as though it doesn't exist means throwing away a piece of American cinematic history, including the director, technical artists, actors and their performances, which includes throwing away Hattie McDaniel's astounding performance. No matter what you believe about her playing the role of Mammy, her skills as an actress were superb in the role. If anyone ever questions that, I encourage them to go sit in a packed theater as the audience collectively watches her anguish over the death of Bonnie in that long walk up the staircase near the end of the film. Just because her moments don't correlate with modern demands and expectations that have been formed and influenced by reality TV, intense violence in TV, film, and video, and exaggerated violent scenes found in all media, does not mean her performance lacks depth or skill. Throwing away GWTW means throwing away Hattie McDaniel and all that she stood for.
For audiences, GWTW still means something to them. GWTW runs annually in independent theaters all throughout the United States to packed houses, meaning it still sells tickets even though those sales don't count outside of an official re-release. GWTW was re-released, in England by the British Film Institute in 2013 with a run that was extended three months, due to high demand. It has huge audiences in Japan. It was recently run in Ireland as part of a "banned film festival" to honor films that had been cut from original length or not allowed to run in Ireland at all. It is embraced in China, India, North, and South Korea. Gone With the Wind is a film with a global audience and a multi-generational audience. GWTW has stood the test of time. It is of the highest quality of film. It tells the story of the women who were left behind to put their lives back together when their husbands, brothers, and fathers left to go to war. Yes, it is the story of southerners who all have to figure out how to live and cope in the new world and Scarlett succeeds because she refuses to fail and she adapts to the new rules of the new world. Yet, the twist is that she loses everything in her quest to succeed. GWTW is complex in plot, character, and mood. It is also stands as a technical achievement of cinema!
GWTW and the Academy Awards
In 1939 GWTW blew through the Oscars with the following eight (8) competitive wins out of 13 nominations plus 2 additional special award Oscars and the awarding of the Irving Thalberg Award to David O. Selznick, ultimately reaching 11 separate awards for GWTW from the Academy:
Vivien Leigh - Best Actress
Hattie McDaniel - Best Supporting Actress
Lyle Wheeler - Art Direction
Earnest Haller and Ray Rennehan - Cinematography
Victor Fleming - Best Director
Hal Kern and James Newcom - Film Editing
Sidney Howard - Best Screenplay
Gone With the Wind - Best Picture to David O. Selznick
In addition, Gone With the Wind earned 2 more non-competitive Oscars (prior to the establishment of the technical awards):
To William Cameron Menzies for outstanding achievement in the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood in the production of Gone with the Wind.
Don Musgrave and Selznick International Pictures. for pioneering in the use of coordinated equipment in the production, Gone with the Wind.
Lastly, David O. Selznick was awarded the Irving Thalberg Award - a special achievement award for excellence in film producing. It was considered the highest award a producer could receive.
That brought in all 10 Oscar Awards to Gone With the Wind and a lifetime achievement award to a producer who was 38 years old!
The Legacy of David O. Selznick
Today, the David O. Selznick papers are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas where their staff have carefully cataloged and archived the papers, archived important items, and have restored some of the original costumes in preparation for their exhibit in honor of the 75th anniversary this fall.