NASCAR lowers Confederate flags; ‘GWTW’ ‘censored’?
By Al Tompkins
Last week, HBO Max removed “Gone with the Wind” from its library and said the 1939 film was:
“ … A product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society. These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible.”
HBO said when the film is returned, “it will return with a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions.”
The film will not be altered because that would “be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”
HBO’s decision to pull “Gone With the Wind” off the shelf for a time was a response to a Los Angeles Times editorial written by John Ridley, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of “12 Years a Slave.”
He wrote: “Let me be real clear: I don’t believe in censorship. I don’t think ‘Gone With the Wind’ should be relegated to a vault in Burbank. I would just ask, after a respectful amount of time has passed, that the film be re-introduced to the HBO Max platform along with other films that give a more broad-based and complete picture of what slavery and the Confederacy truly were. Or, perhaps it could be paired with conversations about narratives and why it’s important to have many voices sharing stories from different perspectives rather than merely those reinforcing the views of the prevailing culture.
“I know taking down a film — particularly a classic Hollywood film — seems like a big request. But it’s not nearly as big a demand as when your children ask whether they can join protests in the streets against racial intolerance, or when they come to you wanting to know what you did to make the world a better place.
“At a moment when we are all considering what more we can do to fight bigotry and intolerance, I would ask that all content providers look at their libraries and make a good-faith effort to separate programming that might be lacking in its representation from that which is blatant in its demonization.”
You could see where this could and maybe should go.
How many Westerns could use some historical perspective in the way they portray Native Americans? What would this mean to war films from every era? Would we go beyond racism to address gender roles and equality? What about Mob films that portray ethnic and racial groups as dangerous and violent?
Pick a decade and a different race or ethnicity would be able to make a claim that the movies make them look horrible.
Predictably, there has been some blowback already. Megyn Kelly used the word “censor” even though Ridley went out of his way to ask that “Gone With the Wind” not be censored or changed, but instead surrounded by some context.
Also last week, NASCAR banned Confederate flags at all its events.
It has been a long time coming, but NASCAR drivers said they are behind a total ban of Confederate flags at NASCAR events.
NASCAR was formed in 1948 in Daytona Beach, Fla. Its origins are rooted in fast cars outrunning police and federal agents during the days of Prohibition. In the decades that followed, Confederate flags adorned everything from clothing to infield campers at NASCAR events.
Five years ago, NASCAR “requested” fans “to refrain from displaying the Confederate flag” at its events. Associated Press sports writer Dan Gelston pointed out: “Five years ago, the flag issue was front and center for NASCAR after nine black churchgoers were slain in Charleston. The man currently on death row for the murders, Dylann Roof, had embraced Confederate symbols before the attack, prompting a reappraisal of the role such symbols play in the South.”
The NASCAR chairman at the time, Brian France, said the series was “working with the industry to see how far we can go to get that flag to be disassociated entirely from our events.” Tracks offered to exchange Confederate flags for American flags, but there were few takers and flags have continued to be seen at the events.
Starting this past weekend, NASCAR’s tone changed. Before the race in Atlanta, 40 cars took their warmup laps and then were called to a halt before the race began. NASCAR president Steve Phelps delivered a message over crew radios, saying: “Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard. The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country, and it has taken far too long for us to hear their demands for change. Our sport must do better. Our country must do better.”
He added: “We ask our drivers … and all our fans to join us in this mission, to take a moment of reflection, to acknowledge that we must do better as a sport and join us as we now pause and take a moment to listen.”
NASCAR’s first black driver since 1971, Bubba Wallace, said it was time for NASCAR to ban Confederate flags from all NASCAR events. Two days later, it happened. The “request” is now a ban.