A Memphis cinema has scrapped its annual screening of Gone With The Wind following protests over its racial content.
The decision was made amid a growing debate about Confederate symbols in the South and frankly, a lot of people give a damn.
Todd Starnes, a Memphis native and Fox News commentator tweeted that the Civil War epic, the highest grossing film in history taking inflation into account, had been “done-in by a bunch of meddling, no account liberal Yankee carpetbaggers”.
“The cultural cleansing of my hometown has gone too far,” he added. “Common sense has gone with the wind.”
But others rallied to the defense of the historic Orpheum Theatre, which had shown the Oscar-laden classic at least once a year for the last 34 years. The 1939 film heavily romanticises the “Old South” where “gallantry took its last bow”, even though that “pretty world” was actually built on slavery. To its critics the film is a nostalgic relic infused with racism.
Black characters in the film are referred to as “darkies”. The actress Hattie McDaniel, playing a slave, became the first African American Academy Award winner but was unable to attend the premiere in Atlanta because of segregation laws at the time.
The Orpheum’s most recent screening, on August 11, coincided with a torchlit procession by white supremacists to a statue of a Confederate general in Charlottesville, Virginia. They were chanting “Jews Will Not Replace Us”.
The following day clashes erupted in the same city between racist extremists and counter-protesters, leading to the death of a woman who was killed when an alleged neo-Nazi rammed his car into a crowd of demonstrators.
The subsequent national outcry has heaped pressure on President Trump over his response, heightened debate around the many Confederate monuments that dot the South and thrust race once more into the foreground of US politics.
Brett Batterson, president of the Orpheum Theatre Group, told a local newspaper that the decision to discontinue the film was made before the Charlottesville tragedy.
“This is something that’s been questioned every year,” he told The Commercial Appeal. “The social media storm this year really brought it home.” He also noted that the film’s popularity had “levelled off”.
In a subsequent statement he added: “The Orpheum cannot show a film that is insensitive to a large segment of its local population.”
“Stop trying to write history,” wrote a Tennessee mother called Sherrye Britt in response. “The next thing you know they will ban To Kill A Mockingbird, Driving Miss Daisy and other iconic movies.”
The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy wrote on Twitter that he was “Appalled by #Gonewiththewind cancellation at Memphis Orpheum Theater: alarming suppression of artistic expression.”
Written by Ben Hoyle for The Times