Set in Georgia, the film (and book) cover the American Civil War (1861-65) and the Reconstruction Era (1865-77) through the eyes of Scarlett O’Hara, the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, following her as she grows and changes throughout the years.
The movie opens with the words, “There was a land of cavaliers and cotton fields called the Old South…here in this pretty world, gallantry took its last bow...” emblazoned across the screen in an elegant yet antiquated script. It sets the scene of the era, but it is nothing more than a nod to the glamourization and romanticization of what the ‘old south’ stood for.
And this is problematic in ways that are still pertinent to today’s cinema and television in that it reduces African Americans to roles of servitude and perpetuates stereotypes that have been ingrained in the culture throughout American history.
Let’s consider the following: the African American characters in the film, who are slaves, are unflatteringly depicted as loyal, docile, and attached to their white overseers. For example, Oscar Polk plays an unquestioning and faithful valet; Butterfly McQueen plays Prissy, represented as hysterical and dishonest. Though Hattie McDaniel was the first African American female to win an Oscar for her portrayal in the film--a historic moment for Black Americans, she could only receive this acknowledgment for a role that promoted her servitude and obedience. At this level, the movie is disturbing because it whitewashes the massive, crushing, and obscene reality of slavery, portraying the white overseers as “kind” and “decent” to those to whom they denied freedom and fundamental human rights.