Films like Gone With the Wind, Lincoln, and Django Unchained all portray different representations of slavery, but all somewhat resemble the truth of this horrible piece of our history. Gone With the Wind presents the traditional: a conservative, romantic, and sentimentalized perspective of the Civil War. While the counter-narratives, Lincoln and Django Unchained, present representations that don’t shy away from the truth.
In 1939, Gone With the Wind was produced into a film after the 1936 publishing of the book. Margaret Mitchell’s brilliant interpretation of slavery and the civil war explains the main perspective of the South: slavery was highly important in day-to-day life. While slaves were considered bottom tier in social class, they were still treated with some sort of decency. In the Horton text, Berlin informs us “slavery was an institution of suffocating oppression, so airtight that it allowed its victims little opportunity to function as full human beings”. We see in Gone With the Wind that this is only partially true. Characters like Mammy and Pork show us that they were treated fairly, but were not able to function to their full potential; they could not live the life they wanted. They were constant servants, and were also never showed appreciation from their owners: the O’Hara family. This film depicts a middle perspective of true and false. It proves America’s point of African Americans being treated as slaves and servants, but it also provides a new idea that there was a positive side: they were treated with some sort of respect. The ending of this film shows the end of slavery. When the North wins the Civil War it brings about chaos in the South. Characters like the O’Hara’s are distraught, and the majority surrounds upon the struggles of the main character, Scarlett. This point could show that white supremacy was a big deal in the South. Along with white supremacy and the Northerners winning, we see a shift in the slaves: they wander and follow aimlessly. They’ve constantly been told what to do, and now they do not know how to live their own life. The chaos in the South at the end and the portrayal of the Civil War throughout shows the true Southern perspective on the end of the war. Since most Americans don’t actually know what the time period of the Civil War was like, this film resembles it best. Gone With the Wind has become “the single most influential interpretation of the Civil War in twentieth-century popular culture [and it] defined that war for a mass audience.”
Since Gone With the Wind, two other movies have come into view that also plays an important role on our interpretation of slavery today. Django Unchained and Lincoln both interpret slavery in different ways to each other and to Gone With the Wind. Django Unchained portrays the classic American perspective on slavery today: gruesome and horrifying. This film depicts an image between enslaved and slaveholder that is absolutely disgusting to taste. Violence was poured upon the enslaved; many were beaten constantly. The view of the slaveholder reigning over the enslaved empowered the vision of white supremacy. This topic struggles in this movie, providing Django as a black hero throughout. He portrays a picture of valiancy for his fellow African-Americans; especially, with his revolt in the ending. Slave revolts happened, and this portrayal isn’t shown often. Slaves didn’t have power, but they took control of it. Django is an excellent example of this. While, yes, he has white who helps him a little here and there along the way, Django takes full control in his effort to try and get his wife back. While, in Gone With the Wind, the film focuses on the “hero” Scarlett and her struggles, Django Unchained presents the truth of the black hero. Django Unchained is heavily sided towards one perspective: slaves were low and were treated horribly. Without any doubt, this movie does not stray from violence. “Back of the Big House” also provides an image of pure violence in slavery. The book and the exhibit both are brutal. Wood, the author, says he created it to “[allow] Americans the chance to encounter directly “those who wore the shoe” of slavery, [give them] an opportunity to have a direct, face-to-face encounter with the hidden history of their nation.” While this film is ghastly and bloodstained, the director himself states, “The violence of slavery was far worse than anything [he has] put on screen”.
The film Lincoln portrays a Northern perspective compared to the Southern perspective of Gone With the Wind. Throughout Lincoln the audience is exposed to a view that wants nothing, but to abolish slavery. The idea of slavery is nauseating to them. Lincoln demonstrates that white Americans and African Americans can both be free. The film establishes that contradicting views are alive during this time period. Yes, abolishing slavery was main point in the film and of this time period to the North, but the even bigger picture shows the audience that ending the Civil War was most important. This provides a sort of tension because the North wanted slavery abolished, but as badly as they wanted the war to be over. The North was afraid that if slavery was abolished before the end of the war, that the South wouldn’t surrender. Also pointed out, in the text, is the Dunning School: a reconstruction era group. They made a strong point that if slavery was abolished before ending the war that the slaves wouldn’t know how to act; the African Americans would never be able to be independent. The film also focuses on the reconstruction of America and the passing of the 13th amendment. With the passing of the 13th amendment, slavery is abolished and the North “wins”. The triumph of the reconstruction is shown in the celebratory ending of the film. With so much celebration, we see the true Northern perspective of the time period, which is also the complete opposite of the South. In Gone With the Wind, we see the pure havoc that was wreaked due to the end of the war. The film provides the perfect Northern perspective of slavery and how it really was during this time period.
Even though Lincoln and Django Unchained are counter-narratives to Gone With the Wind, all three films portray a somewhat accurate view on slavery. America today views our history on slavery in so many different ways, and it is rarely learned. Films like these present contradicting, but knowledgeable facts about slavery and our history. This public history has been altered throughout time based on many different novels, articles, films, etc. These three films represent prime interpretations of slavery and the Civil War, and its affect on changing history.
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