Richardson, Riché. “Southern Horrors, Global Terrors.” Black Renaissance, 7.3 (Fall 2007). 30 Nov. 2008.
Southern Horrors, Global Terrors by Riche Richardson analyzes the manner in which producers D.W. Griffith and David Selznick approached translating the racially-charged novels “The Clansman” and “Gone With the Wind” into film. Both novels, set during the American Civil War and rooted in Southern ideology, utilize virulent racist language to illustrate the pervasive bigotry typical of the South during the War period. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of a Nation, based on the novel “The Clansman,” retains and advances the novel’s racist elements. In contrast, Selznick’s 1939 film adaptation of Gone With the Wind offers an ostensibly less racially-charged account of the War and Reconstruction than both the film’s literary counterpart and Birth of a Nation. Richardson describes the film version of Gone With the Wind as more “sanitized,” ignoring numerous instances in the novel where popular characters like Rhett Butler and Melanie Wilkes dehumanize and devalue African Americans. Further, Richardson contends that Selznick’s omission of many of Margaret Mitchell’s racist elements is reflective of Hollywood’s contemporary rejection of overt racism as distasteful and morally reprehensible.
In assessing the consistency of Gone With the Wind with the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Richardson’s article provides a valuable insight into the nature of racism in the 19th Century South. Both novels advance the Southern ideology of the period that aimed to perpetuate black inferiority to the white supremacist class. As the article illustrates, Griffith chose to accommodate such bigotry in his film, while Selznick chose to “tone down” Mitchell’s racist elements. Selznick’s choice to abandon much of the bigotry that pervades the literary narrative may make the film more appealing to contemporary Hollywood and American culture, but makes the film less reflective of the Southern ideology of the period.