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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the epic drama Gone with the Wind is based on Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel. It centers around the Civil War-torn South and includes several scenes of war-related violence, including wounded soldiers dying and main character Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) shooting a Union deserter. The sexuality isn't as overt as in contemporary movies, but it's still pervasive. Scarlett purposely uses her sexual appeal to manipulate men. There's plenty of flirting, several kisses (some very passionate), and a minor character who's a good-hearted "lady of the night." One scene implies that a husband forces his wife to go to bed with him. Alcohol and cigar use are also frequent, especially during the movie's many parties, and there's a bit of strong language (particularly one very famous "damn"). It may concern some parents that the Confederate South is portrayed as having been a place of gentility and charm, and the movie's depiction of Black characters is problematic and stereotypical. The enslaved people seem to actually enjoy their lot and are portrayed as either superficial and ignorant or fussy and smothering.
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What's the story?
GONE WITH THE WIND is an epic melodrama that chronicles the Civil War from the point of view of Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), a glamorous, headstrong Southern belle. Just before the war begins, the pampered and beautiful Scarlett -- whose family plantation is called Tara -- attends a ball. There, she discovers that her object of affection, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), has become engaged to his cousin, Melanie (Olivia de Havilland). In a fit of jealousy, Scarlett accepts a proposal from Melanie's brother -- but not before she meets the dashing Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), who can't keep his eyes off of her. Widowed shortly after the war begins, a "mourning" Scarlett once again meets Rhett at a dance but goes on to marry a businessman she doesn't love in order to keep Tara. As the war takes a heavy toll, Scarlett and Melanie must deal with the near destruction of everything and everyone around them, including Tara. Scarlett eventually marries Rhett, even though she continues to harbor not-so-secret feelings for Ashley, and they have a daughter together. Tragedies continue to befall the Butlers, and their marriage is tested again and again.
Is it any good?
It's harder and harder to look past this film's stereotypical depiction of enslaved people and its romanticizing of the antebellum South, but Leigh and Gable's performances are undeniably excellent. Actors who want a master class in chemistry should be forced to study their scenes together. Leigh, an Englishwoman, is effortless in her portrayal of a manipulative Atlanta socialite, and Gable causes swooning with the briefest of smoldering looks. The supporting cast is also remarkable, as are the cinematography and the costume design (the unforgettable green velvet dress made from curtains!).
Director Victor Fleming could have retired after 1939, and he'd still be lauded for having directed (or at least finished directing) two of the 20th century's landmark movies: Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Both films regularly rank in all-time greatest lists, and both films will likely make a different impact at various points in a viewer's life. A tween taking in all four (!) hours of Leigh and Gable in Gone with the Wind might focus on the costumes and war and tune out the problematic depictions of the time period, while an older teen might hone in on the swoon-inducing romance, and an adult might be less sympathetic to Scarlett and favor Melanie's quiet strength instead. There's a reason Hollywood's adaptation of this Southern saga won nine Academy Awards (including the first Oscar ever given to a Black actor, Hattie McDaniel) and is still remembered decades later. It's got it all: drama, conflict, intrigue, romance, historical significance, a timeless score, and an amazing cast. Just be sure to put it all in context and identify the teachable moments for today's kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the Civil War is portrayed in Gone with the Wind via the character of Scarlett O'Hara. How does the war affect her way of life? Does living through war change her personality, or does she remain the same throughout?
How are Black characters depicted in the movie? Why are their representations problematic? How do you think the portrayal of slavery would be different if this movie were remade today?
Scarlett is married several times for different reasons. Was marriage her only option at the time? What's different about her marriages to Charles, Frank, and then Rhett? Which of her marriages means the most to her, and why?
Melanie is Scarlett's opposite in most ways. How do their personalities, values, and behavior differ? Do you consider either or both a role model? A positive female representation?
- In theaters: December 15, 1939
- On DVD or streaming: November 17, 2009
- Cast: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel, Leslie Howard
- Director: Victor Fleming
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Classic
- Topics: Book Characters, History
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 238 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: September 1, 2020
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