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Gone with the Wind (1939)
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Length: 238 minutes (3 hours, 58 minutes)
Age appropriateness: This film is rated TV-PG in the United States. Essentially, it is safe (in terms of graphic violence and sex) for anyone from seventh grade on up.
Creators and stars: Alicia Rhett, Ann Rutherford, Barbara O'Neil, Butterfly McQueen, Carroll Nye, Clark Gable, David O. Selznick, Evelyn Keyes, Everett Brown, Fred Crane, George Reeves, Hattie McDaniel, Jane Darwell, Leslie Howard, Margaret Mitchell, Max Steiner, Olivia de Havilland, Oscar Polk, Rand Brooks, Sidney Howard, Thomas Mitchell, Victor Fleming, Victor Jory, Vivien Leigh
Accuracy: Gone with the Wind is based on the Margaret Mitchell novel of the same name, and is fairly true to the book, minus omissions such as Scarlett O'Hara's first two children, cut from the screenplay due to time constraints. The film is set in Georgia during the U.S. Civil War, and is generally truthful to major events of the conflict, though much less truthful to the social aspects and legacy of the war.
Review: Gone with the Wind is one of the most beloved films ever made. For a large number of people, this film is their primary source of information on the Civil War (1861-1865). There is plenty to like--a stellar cast, terrific musical score, lavish sets, beautiful period costumes, and riveting characters.
Unfortunately, Gone with the Wind unrealistically glamorizes life in the antebellum South. In this film, slaves are treated well, and care for their owners in return. Slaves are presented as eagerly serving the Confederacy. Overall, the Confederates are the good guys, and the Yankees are the bad guys. The Yankees have caused a horrible war by not letting the South have independence. After defeating the brave troops in grey, the Yankees delude freed blacks with false hope (this point not entirely untrue, given the subsequent history of the American South). Eventually, Southern whites reclaim their power and dignity, and all is right again in their world. The reality? Life in the antebellum South was brutal for slaves. Some slaves were compelled to perform tasks like digging ditches for the Confederate Army, but the notion that Southern blacks sought to preserve the government that enslaved them is a falsehood. When Southern whites regained power, they instituted Jim Crow laws and other forms of social and economic oppression that mimicked life under slavery before the war.
So why would we review Gone with the Wind? This film is simply too powerful to ignore. It has shaped how Americans think about the Civil War for over seventy years. It offers a wonderful example of how much power a popular Hollywood film can have on our knowledge of history. A careful analysis of this film really opens students' eyes to the power of filmmaker and novelist bias.
At just shy of four hours in length, it is nearly impossible to find the time to show this entire film in a classroom. Clips are recommended. We suggest viewing clips of Gone with the Wind after studying the major aspects of the Civil War. Compare and contrast how slavery is illustrated in the film with primary source documents. Discuss the impact of this film on how modern Americans, including those in the "Yankee" states, view the Civil War. Click here for the official film poster.
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Gone with the Wind Movie Review Publication Date for Citation Purposes: June 5, 2012