Why Gone with the Wind Still Matters
Although breezy and predictable popcorn flicks provide a welcome distraction, they often fail to leave a lasting impression on viewers. Classical titles, on the other hand, have endured the test of time and are still watched, quoted, and referenced today. Certain movies, such as The Godfather, Pride & Prejudice, Psycho, The Sound of Music, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, were created so masterfully that they still remain popular to this day.
One such film is the 1939 romance drama Gone with the Wind, based on Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel of the same name. Directed by Victor Fleming, the movie is set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction period. It stars Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, a privileged Southern belle on a Georgia cotton plantation, and Clark Gable as the charming and cynical Rhett Butler.
Gone with the Wind is the first color movie to have won the Oscar for Best Picture, receiving nine additional awards, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actress. Its most pivotal achievement, however, is that Hattie McDaniel, who portrayed Scarlett’s house servant Mammy, won Best Supporting Actress, thus becoming the first African-American performer to receive an Oscar.
One of the reasons for the movie’s longevity and relevance today is its resourceful and strong female lead. Scarlett starts off as a spoiled, vain, stubborn, and self-centered character, but when war disrupts her life, she undergoes significant character development. She becomes a shrewd business leader and an inspiring role model, using her determination, intelligence, and survival skills to nurse her ill sister-in-law, keep the plantation from being seized, and save her people from starvation.
Gone with the Wind’s romance between Scarlett and Rhett is also unforgettable. Their relationship is fascinating not because it’s idyllic, but because they are flawed and relatable characters. After several misfortunes, Scarlett finally ties the knot with Rhett, but their happiness is short-lived after their daughter Bonnie dies. Scarlett becomes depressed, and Rhett turns to alcohol abuse, leading to their eventual estrangement.
The movie’s most famous lines are still quoted today, such as “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” and “You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.” However, it’s important to note that the movie also highlights problematic elements such as racism and slavery. It portrays slavery in an unproblematic light and features stereotypical speech and mannerisms, as well as one-dimensional Black servants.
Despite these problematic elements, Gone with the Wind remains a cinematic landmark that cinephiles continue to revisit. It features one of the most famous on-screen love stories, great character development, and gorgeous costumes. While it may romanticize the South prior to the Civil War, it also serves as a painful reminder of a tumultuous past.
While breezy and predictable popcorn flicks are a welcome distraction, they rarely leave viewers with a lasting impression. Certain classical titles, however, have stood the test of time, and are still watched, commented, quoted, and referenced today. Whether featuring a crime syndicate like the gripping The Godfather; a swoon-worthy love confession at dawn like the period drama Pride & Prejudice; a notorious shower murder scene like Hitchcock’s Psycho; a beloved singing family in pre-World War II Austria like The Sound of Music; or an epic showdown sequence like the Spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad, and the Uglycertain movies were crafted so well that they still endure to this day.
One such film is the 1939 period romance drama Gone with the Windbased on the best-selling 1936 novel of the same name by Margaret Mitchell. Directed by Victor Fleming and set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction period, it stars Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, a privileged Southern belle on a Georgia cotton plantation, and the charming and cynical Rhett Butler (Clark Gable).
The first color movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture, Gone with the Wind earned nine additional awards, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actress. Its most pivotal achievement, however, is that Hattie McDaniel, who portrayed Scarlett’s house servant Mammy, won Best Supporting Actress, thus becoming the first African-American performer to take home an Oscar.
Here is why this movie has endured and is still significant today.
A Resourceful and Strong Female Lead
The beautiful and elegant Scarlett comes off as spoiled, vain, stubborn, and self-centered, but when war turns her life upside down, she goes through significant character development and becomes a shrewd business leader and an inspiring role model.
Her determination, intelligence, and survival skills prove useful as she is left to nurse her ill sister-in-law from her first marriage, Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) and her newborn, keep the plantation from being seized, and save her people from starvation.
“I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”
In her piece 7 Things Scarlett O’Hara Taught Me About LifeAndi Fisher writes that the rebellious and passionate Scarlett imparted many life lessons on her, such as “Your dream guy may not be the right guy,” “Even deeply flawed women deserve happiness,” and “Tomorrow is another day.”
Irresistible Romance and Unforgettable Lines That Are Still Referenced Today
Scarlett and Rhett’s relationship isn’t fascinating because it’s idyllic, but because they are flawed and relatable characters, and their rocky story is a long-time coming. At first, Scarlett is obsessed with Ashley, who then marries Melanie, so her exchanges with Rhett are fiery, insulting, and brief. And after Ashley rejects her advances, she gets hitched to Melanie’s brother Charles, out of spite. Then, years after Charles is killed in the war, she steals her sister’s fiancé, Frank, who is later killed in a vigilante attack. It is only after these misfortunes that she finally ties the knot with Rhett, who has been around all this time, running a blockade for the Confederacy.
“I want you to faint. This is what you were meant for. None of the fools you’ve ever known have kissed you like this, have they? Your Charles, or your Frank, or your stupid Ashley.”
At first, their marriage is a happy one, until their daughter Bonnie falls off her horse and dies, sending Scarlett into depression and Rhett into alcohol abuse. They become estranged, especially after Melanie passes, leaving the door open for Scarlett to seize another chance with Ashley. After finally realizing her heart belongs to Rhett, she goes back to him to find him packing, and he leaves despite her desperate pleas. The movie ends with her returning to her plantation and vowing to get him back.
To this day, Gone with the Wind’s most famous lines are still quoted among cinephiles and in various films and series. These include: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”; “If you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?”; “You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.”; and “Don’t bother me anymore, and don’t call me sugar.”
A Reminder About Racism and On-Screen Representation
The film overtly romanticizes the South prior to the Civil War, dazzling audiences with lush scenery, elegant mansions, opulent gatherings, intricate costumes, and stereotypical mannerisms and speech. When it was released, it was a welcome escape from the Great Depression and talks of World War II. When viewed in today’s equally gloomy inflation, civil unrest, and post-pandemic era, it instills sentimentalism and nostalgia.
Gone with the Wind is undoubtedly sympathetic to the Confederate cause and portrays slavery in an unproblematic light. It highlights the close bond between Scarlett’s family and their complacent, one-dimensional Black servants, namely Prissy (Butterfly McQueen), Pork (Oscar Polk), and Mammy. These racist tropes are sadly still found in modern releases, and it’s no wonder that in the 1960s, films like Look Who’s Coming to Dinner? and shows like Star Trek: The Original Series tried to break the mold and give people of color much more significant roles.
Featuring one of the most famous on-screen love stories, gorgeous costumes, great character development, and painful reminders of a tumultuous past, Gone with the Wind is a cinematic landmark that cinephiles will keep revisiting time and time again.