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Gone With the Wind: Historical Facts About the Movie

written by: Shelia Odak • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 2/26/2014

Learn the history behind one of the favorite films of all-time, "Gone with the Wind." From its depiction of black characters to the role of women, the movie contains both historical accuracies and inaccuracies giving an intriguing view of the prejudices of the time period it was made in.

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    Growing up, I would look forward to the time of year when a television network would show the film Gone with the Wind. At that time in Gone With the Wind Movie Poster my life, I loved the movie for its romance and its tragedy. I was angry at Scarlett for chasing Ashley, who I thought was a complete wimp. I cried when Bonnie Blue and Melanie died. I was heartbroken when Rhett walked out Scarlett’s door for the last time.

    Now, I see the movie in a different light. I still love its passion and pathos, but I also love it for the history it portrays and the history it made in Hollywood. Interesting Gone with the Wind movie historical facts include information about the movie’s portrayal of the Civil War South, the depiction of the role of women, the role of race relations, and the film’s part in cinema history.

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    Portraying the Civil War South

    An Atlanta historian, William Kurtz, was hired by David O. Selznick to ensure that the Southern architecture, manners, dress, and artillery were all historically accurate.

    However, inaccuracies crept in, including anachronisms such as a radio tower that appears during the hospital scene and electric lamps that show up in two scenes. In addition, according to Kurtz, the plantations were portrayed in a romantic light that rendered them fictional. There was too much "moonlight and magnolias."

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    Depicting the Role of Women

    Film critic Roger Ebert notes that the appeal of Scarlett O’Hara for the film's 1930s audience was the fact that the character was more a product of that time period than of the 1860s. Scarlett’s situation resembled that of the post-Depression female who was put to work outside the home for the first time. Ebert calls the character “the symbol the nation needed as it headed into World War II; the spiritual sister of Rosie the Riveter."

    The integral role of women in operating a plantation was depicted in the movie and is historically accurate. The film shows the character of Ellen O’Hara as directing an overseer in the work he needed to do the following day. Though such women were wealthy, they contributed to the day-to-day running of the plantation and were responsible for a range of household tasks including the garden, food, clothing, and medicine.

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    Representing Race Relations

    The portrayal of race relations is probably the most criticized element of the film and strays greatly from historical accuracy. The slaves were often portrayed in a stereotypical manner, including using them as comic relief. The slaves are emotionally tied to the plantation and to their masters but less so to each other. Additionally, there are no truly rebellious slaves beyond the ones living in the shanty town.

    While the movie glosses over the horror of slavery and the fact that the Southern plantation system relied on the barbaric treatment of human beings, strong and memorable African American characters were created, a rarity in cinema at that time. This is seen especially in the character of Mammy who shows more common sense than many of the main characters.

    Originally, the Ku Klux Klan was mentioned in the film. This mention was edited out because of fears of offending public officials who belonged to the organization.

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    Making Publishing and Cinema History

    It is more than 75 years since the publication of Gone with the Wind. A native of Atlanta, GA, Margaret Mitchell grew up listening to stories of the Civil War told by Confederate veterans. These were used as inspiration in her writing. Gone with the Wind was her first novel and won the Pulitzer Prize.The novel broke publishing records by selling more than one million copies within six months.

    Even before the book was published, Hollywood had taken notice of this story of the Civil War South. Producer David O. Selznick bought the film rights to Margaret Mitchell’s novel for $50,000. This was more than had ever before been paid for the rights to an author’s first book.

    No matter how inaccurate the portrayal of slavery was in Gone with the Wind, the film itself opened doors for African-American actors. Hattie McDaniel, who portrayed Mammy, was the first African American to receive an Academy Award. However, because of segregation laws during the 1930s, McDaniel was not able to attend the premier of the film in Atlanta.

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    The following references souces contain many more examples of Gone with the Wind movie historical facts for students.

    Margaret Mitchell House

    "History and Hollywood: Gone with the Wind and A League of Their Own" by Andrea Barnes on the Ohio State University website.

    Gone with the Wind: