US theatre pulls Gone With The Wind screenings after complaints

The Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee, dropped the 1939 classic starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh (both left) after patrons said it is "racially insensitive".
The Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee, dropped the 1939 classic starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh (both above) after patrons said it is "racially insensitive".PHOTO: STARHUB

WASHINGTON • A Memphis, Tennessee, theatre has ended its 34year tradition of screening the 1939 Oscar-winning-film Gone With The Wind at least once a year.

The Orpheum Theatre dropped the movie from its programming after several patrons complained about an Aug 11 screening, saying the film is "racially insensitive", USA Today reported.

"While title selections for the series are typically made in the spring of each year, the Orpheum has made this determination early in response to specific inquiries from patrons," Mr Brett Batterson, president of the Orpheum Theatre Group, said in a statement obtained by Entertainment Weekly.

"As an organisation whose stated mission is to 'entertain, educate and enlighten the communities it serves', the Orpheum cannot show a film that is insensitive to a large segment of its local population," he added.

Taking inflation into account, the Civil War epic Gone With The Wind is the highest-grossing film of all time, according to Box Office Mojo.

Even so, its treatment of black characters - referred to as "darkies" throughout the film - has been at the centre of an increasingly heated debate.

The movie follows the life of Southern belle Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), who grows up on a plantation and eventually falls in love with former blockade runner for the South Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). To many, the film depicts the Confederacy in a nostalgic, loving way, while drawing its black characters in broad and demeaning stereotypes.

In 2015, film critic Lou Lumenick wrote that the film "buys heavily into the idea that the Civil War was a noble lost cause and casts Yankees and Yankee sympathisers as the villains, both during the war and during the Reconstruction".

He suggested it should "go the way of the Confederate flag" and be phased out of American culture.

Outraged defenders of the movie, though, seemed to feel otherwise and quickly vocalised their objections.

The loudest voice belonged to Fox News commentator and Memphis native Todd Starnes.

In two tweets linking to a commentary he wrote on the theatre's decision, he said that "common sense has gone with the wind in my hometown of Memphis" and that the movie "has been done-in by a bunch of meddling, no-account, liberal Yankee carpetbaggers".

"The cultural cleansing of my hometown has gone too far," he wrote on his blog, calling those who complained "culture jihadists".

"Many Memphians must be wondering what has come over this here town. To borrow a phrase from Gone With The Wind, liberals have come over it. Same as they've come over all of us."

He concluded:"But there's no use crying in our sweet tea, Southerners. We must stand up to the scourge of the Yankee liberals. We must stand up and fight. In the words of Scarlett O'Hara, as God is my witness - we're not gonna let them lick us."

Some people who had seen the movie in Memphis agreed with Starnes.

"My grown daughter and I went together to see this movie during the summer screening five years ago. It is an epic movie that no one should miss on the big screen," wrote Ms Sherrye Britt, who said there is nothing racist about the movie. "Stop trying to rewrite history. The next thing you know, they will ban To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), Driving Miss Daisy (1989) and other iconic movies."

"I was fortunate enough to go and see GWTW last year at the Orpheum," wrote Ms Vickie Lewis. "I can say without a doubt that I will never give this theatre my money again."

But others, such as Ms Erin Maher, supported the theatre.

"Agree with this decision," she wrote. "This is no time to be romanticising the Confederacy and slave owners. People who want to watch it can still watch it. They're not burning the only print."

For all the outrage, though, the Orpheum Theatre has not backed down. Mr Batterson told the Commercial Appeal newspaper this was not the first time the theatre had considered pulling the movie from its annual schedule, but the decision had finally been made.

"This is something that's been questioned every year," he said. "This is about the Orpheum wanting to be inclusive and welcoming to all of Memphis."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2017, with the headline 'US theatre pulls Gone With The Wind screenings after complaints'. Print Edition | Subscribe