Somewhere in the third month of this New York City lockdown, and amidst daily national protests over the killing of black men by brutal police officers, the new streaming service HBO Max announced that Gone with the Wind would be one of their premier films for their launch. Meanwhile, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling wrote a 3700 word essay during Pride month to announce that she believes that people who have transitioned to the opposite sex are indeed not equal to those who have lived with the genitals they were born with.
It’s been quite a month, and we are only half way through.
John Ridley, the director of 12 Years a Slave, wrote an Op Ed in the LA Times addressing the HBO Max decision to feature the 80 year-old GWTW so prominently in their launch when it so blatantly romanticizes the myth of the Confederacy and Southern plantation life. Ridley wrote, “The movie had the very best talents in Hollywood at that time working together to sentimentalize a history that never was. And it continues to give cover to those who falsely claim that clinging to the iconography of the plantation era is a matter of ‘heritage, not hate.’” He requested that HBO Max include a warning or some kind of historical context –perhaps showing the film in the company of other films that do not glorify what we all know was a shameful period in American history. To my utter surprise—and I think most Americans’—HBO Max listened and have pulled the film from its starting line-up.
HBO released a statement that said, “Gone with the Wind is 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 explained that the movie will return to the streaming service at a future time with context but that the movie itself will remain untouched "because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed."
Meanwhile, over in the UK, Rowling was typing her TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) manifesto for the entire world to read, smashing her role as an author to look up to with the assurance of tone deaf privilege. Using the dog whistle of fear of trans men in women’s bathrooms, she reiterated her fear of “men in dresses” saying, “I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators.” She called for the safety of single sex spaces and expressed her dismay at the increase in female to male transition that she fears is an epidemic of the young who are not comfortable in their newly adult female skin and roles and wondered out loud if they might all want to transition back if they were allowed to transition too early. I think halfway through this lengthy piece most of us rolled our eyes.
But this is not just a moment we can chalk up to a middle-aged wealthy author advancing into dotty selfish personal politics. Harry Potter was a symbol of embracing your differences to multiple generations and when an author of such prominence comes out against her own thematic elements it gives you pause. So much so that many of her fans have said they will no longer buy or recommend her books or merchandize or be part of her fandom. It just breaks your heart when your icons turn out to be made of clay.
Even though Daniel Radcliffe who played Harry Potter in the movies, Emma Watson who played Hermione Granger and Eddie Redmayne who starred in her Fantastic Beasts spin-offs to the Potter titles all made statements saying that they did not agree with her, Rowling has not had the heard or listened.
Warner Brothers, which made the movies and owns the rides in the theme parks, has not had the spine to put her statements in historical context as HBO Max has done with GWTW. Their press statement read: “The events in the last several weeks have firmed our resolve as a company to confront difficult societal issues. Warner Bros.’ position on inclusiveness is well established, and fostering a diverse and inclusive culture has never been more important to our company and to our audiences around the world. We deeply value the work of our storytellers who give so much of themselves in sharing their creations with us all. We recognize our responsibility to foster empathy and advocate understanding of all communities and all people, particularly those we work with and those we reach through our content.”