The first time I watched this movie, I walked away not really getting what all the fuss was about. I found Scarlett to be an absolute brat with no redeeming traits. However, after time, additional viewings, and reading more about the making of this film and the pop culture phenomenon that it became, I know see there’s a lot going on in this film. This film touches on race relations, the relations between men and women, the relations between women and other women, how our country views the South. I’m sure there are whole classes that focus on this one film.
Director Victor Fleming was not a fan of Scarlett O’Hara and saw Rhett Butler as the film’s true protagonist. I think it’s an interesting take. Rhett is definitely more likable and he goes through a more satisfying change than Scarlett. I remember growing up trying to piece the plot together based on all the pop culture standards. I imagined Rhett must be a cad and could only imagine a jerk telling Southern belle Scarlett “Frankly, my Dear, I don’t give a damn. “ But upon my first viewing, I cheered as Rhett finally left her bratty butt. While Scarlett does go through a change during the film’s final moments, it’s more like her attention is diverted. She’s still the same person, she just has a different focus.
And can we talk for a second about how this movie is all Ashley’s fault. When we first meet Scarlett she is focused on getting Ashley Wilkes to marry her and is shocked to hear that he’s planning to propose to (his cousin!) Melanie. When she confronts him, he promises her he loves her, but Melanie would be a better match for him. This sends Scarlett on a decade plus long campaign to make Ashley jealous and eventually get him to leave Melanie for her. In the last minutes of the film, she finally realizes that he had been placating her all along and never wanted her the way she wanted him. And like that, she snaps out of it. She finally sees what she has with Rhett and appreciates all he has done for her, but it’s too late. If Ashley had been honest with her from the beginning, she might have been able to have a nice life with Rhett or somebody. But she wasted years yearning for a man who was too cowardly to tell her the truth. But does Scarlett really learn anything from this? No, instead she begins to scheme on how she can win Rhett back, because she was so successful the last time she tried to trick a man into loving her.
Scarlett is the ultimate frenemy. I can’t think of another female character in film history, who equates self-worth with male attention more than Scarlett. She will steal your man even if she doesn’t like him, just because she can. She even marries her sister’s long-time beau! No one sees good in Scarlett like Melanie does and how does she repay her for her loyalty? By regularly trying to steal her husband! I find it interesting that she is such a broken woman because from what we see of her mother, she seems pretty awesome. She’s kind yet really strong. Really seemed like a woman ahead of her time. Maybe she spent more time helping “poor white trash” birth their babies than at home and that’s what messed Scarlett up.
The other important woman in Scarlett’s life was Mammy. This is a great example of Hollywood having to wrap progressive ideas in a regressive disguise. This was the strongest black character in film at the time and Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to win an Oscar, but the Mammy archetype is a very complicated figure. It was originally conceived to distract from the fact that slave owners often raped their female slaves. Mammy is overweight, dark skinned, middle-aged, completely asexual and therefore safe to a white family. Scarlett’s Mammy is the only person who can talk any sense to her, as seen when she points out that while Ashley may claim to like a girl who has a healthy appetite, he hasn’t proposed to Scarlett so she better eat before the party. Mammy’s relationship with Rhett is very interesting because he treats her as a full person and not someone whose sole purpose is to serve white people. Clark Gable & Hattie McDaniel also had a tender relationship. He demanded the bathrooms on set be desegregated and refused to attend the premiere when he found out McDaniel could not enter the Atlanta theater the event was held in (McDaniel eventually talked him into going).
This movie reminds me a lot of how much our country has to kiss the South’s ass. We have to pretend that plantation era South was this magical land of gentlemen and belles and slaves loved their owners and it really confuses me. The story is a love letter to the South but I think the film is a little tongue in cheek about it. It might be my prejudice but I feel like the pro-South stuff is so over the top, the director had to think it was bullshit. Right guys?