Memphis’ famous Orpheum Theater will swap Gone With the Wind out of its summer film series next year, after customers complained that the classic film, which was released in the late 1930s and is centered around the events of the American Civil War, is too “insensitive” to be shown in theaters today.
According to the Orpheum Theater Group, which selects the features, scrapping Gone With the Wind wasn’t merely a precaution — people actually complained that the movie triggered viewers with its overt regressiveness after the Orpheum showed it as part of its 2017 series.
“While title selections for the series are typically made in the spring of each year, the Orpheum has made this determination early in response to specific inquiries from patrons,” a statement from the theater’s board read. The Orpheum appreciates feedback on its programming from all members of the mid-south community. The recent screening of Gone With the Wind at the Orpheum on Friday, August 11, 2017, generated numerous comments. The Orpheum carefully reviewed all of them.”
“As an organization whose stated mission is to ‘entertain, educate and enlighten the communities it serves’, the Orpheum cannot show a film that is insensitive to a large segment of its local population,” the board concluded.
Although the Orpheum didn’t release the exact complaints received from patrons, a quick glance through the theater’s Facebook page reveals a host of gripes about the 1939 classic. One Orpheum fan called the film “racist.” Another claimed scrubbing the film would be a blow to the rise of the alt-right, and likened relegating Gone With the Wind to the trash heap of Hollywood history to toppling monuments to the Confederacy: “slowly but surely, we will rid this community of all tributes to white supremacy.”
The film is, indeed, controversial — particularly when viewed outside of its time. Margaret Mitchell’s original novel is sympathetic to the South — or at least, nostalgic for the antebellum way of life. And there’s no doubt that the film’s portrayal of African-Americans is problematic, to say the least, particularly Hattie McDaniel’s character, Mammy.
But the film is also a significant cinematic achievement — hailed as one of the greatest epic movies of all time — and the Orpheum shows movies to celebrate their contributions to film history, not to showcase their historical shortcomings.
A handful of Orpheum fans were outraged that the theater would even consider banning the movie, though, proving at least a few theater-goers could handle the film like adults. One even suggested that the film be taught in context, as a way of “teach[ing] our children and grandchildren what is wrong with slavery.”