One of the selling points for HBO Max, the recently launched streaming service from WarnerMedia, is the inclusion of classic films from Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection. But choosing which old movies to include, and how to present them, can get thorny.
Case in point: “Gone with the Wind” is generally considered one of the greatest and most popular movies of all time — but it also presents a cheery version of slavery and glorifies the antebellum South.
In the context of the recent protests following the death of George Floyd, along with the broader discussions about racial justice, “12 Years a Slave” screenwriter John Ridley published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times calling on HBO Max to remove the film.
Ridley acknowledged that “movies are often snapshots of moments in history” and that “even the most well-intentioned films can fall short in how they represent marginalized communities.” However, he suggested that “Gone with the Wind” is “its own unique problem … 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.”
HBO Max has now responded by removing the film and releasing a statement acknowledging that its “racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.”
At the same time, the statement suggests that the removal is only temporary: “These depictions are certainly counter to WarnerMedia’s values, so when we return the film to HBO Max, 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.”
HBO Max isn’t the first streaming service to face these questions. Disney+ (which probably needs to take a more hands-on approach, given its focus on family and children’s programming) includes disclaimers about “outdated cultural depictions” on titles like “Dumbo,” while former CEO Bob Iger has also said the notoriously racist “Song of the South” is “not appropriate in today’s world” and will never been included on the service.
Update, June 25: The movie is now back on HBO Max, along with three videos offering additional historical context, including a Turner Classic Movies introduction and an hourlong special about its “complicated legacy.”