Monday, February 16, 2009

African-American Folklore in Film (Part 2)

Gone with the Wind
During the tumultuous time known as the Great Depression, many people longed for a bygone era when life seemed more romantic and simple. During this period Margaret Mitchell wrote her story of the Civil War, Gone with the Wind.

Starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, the movie version took the United States by a storm. It won the Academy awards for best picture and best actress. Its use of music and color surprised and delighted audiences and critics. It is still considered one of the greatest movies of all time (#4 on the AFI top 100 list).

Although Gone with the Wind did not deal directly with black subjects, it did introduce several black characters. Each of these black characters represented a black stereotype perpetuated by whites at the time.

"Mammy" represented the household servant who submissively ran the house. She did not attempt to change her position but dutifully watched over those in her care, primarily Scarlett. She often became the voice of reason, piety, and morality. Although absolutely necessary to the running of the family, she never posed any threat to them.

"Prissy" was the perfect example of why blacks needed whites to protect them. One of the strongest proslavery arguments was paternalism. Prissy was emotional, unintelligent, and helpless. Even after emancipation, she needed the security of "belonging" to whites. She also posed no threat to whites.

Other black characters such as Jonas, Big Sam, and Pork portrayed blacks who were content with their work, never mind their lack of freedom. They worked a full, honest day with smiles on their faces. As slaves, they were grateful for the protection of their masters, they would never harm them.

The black characters in Gone with the Wind were not threatening but they also weren't accurate depictions of black in antebellum America. They were much more a representation of what depression-era whites wanted to believe and remember about a bygone time of history.

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