Angry fans give a damn as Memphis theater drops ‘Gone With the Wind’

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Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) and Scarlett O’Hara (Vivian Leigh) dance in “Gone With the Wind.” | New Line Cinema

“Gone With the Wind” is gone from a Memphis theater — despite a 34-year tradition — and by Monday opponents were mounting a fiery Sherman-esque march through social media to cast shame on its ban as “racially insensitive.”

“Common sense has gone with the wind in my hometown of Memphis,” tweeted Fox News host Todd Starnes. He claimed the film had been “done-in by a bunch of meddling, no-account, liberal Yankee carpetbaggers.”

Even a French cultural icon, erudite philosopher and cineaste Bernard-Henri Levy, had something to say in 140 characters, joining right-wing critics in condemning restraint on free expression.

“Appalled by #Gonewiththewind cancellation at Memphis Orpheum Theater: alarming suppression of artistic expression,” Levy declared on Twitter.

The Orpheum Theatre canceled a long-running annual screening of “GWTW because of “racially insensitive content” in the 1939 film, which won eight Oscars and was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning 1936 book of the same name.

But the film’s fans, free-expression supporters and Dixie sympathizers are furious about the decision and shouting out on social media against “whiny” and PC-obsessed liberals they blame for the decision.

” ‘Gone With the Wind banned in Memphis, the alt-left claims its racism/racist. If you dont think these folks are lunatics then you are one,” tweeted Lee Muncy of North Carolina.

The 78-year-old film’s content is hardly a surprise: It has long been scrutinized and criticized for its romanticized depiction of the antebellum bad old days of slavery in the South.

African Americans have complained about it for years to little effect. But “GWTW also is the first film in which a black performer — Hattie McDaniel, who played main character Scarlett O’Hara’s slave “Mammy” — won a best-supporting actress Oscar.

Now, with Hollywood’s #OscarsSoWhite problem and the growing visibility of white supremacists posturing in public and online, “GWTW seems especially toxic to some, including in Memphis with its large African-American population.

The Orpheum theater group’s president, Brett Batterson, said in a statement Friday that the film will be dropped during its summer movie series starting in 2018. The film was shown at the Orpheum on Aug. 11, in the 34th year it has been screened at the theater.

“As an organization whose stated mission is to ‘entertain, educate and enlighten the communities it serves,’ the Orpheum cannot show a film that is insensitive to a large segment of its local population,” Batterson said in the statement.

Batterson told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that he acted in the wake of a “social media storm” that erupted around the film, but that the decision was made “before Charlottesville” and the ongoing debate over removing Confederate symbols and monuments and their link to racism.

“This is something that’s been questioned every year, but the social media storm this year really brought it home,” said Batterson, referring to “feedback” about the film, pro and con, from both members of the general public and scholars. “This is about the Orpheum wanting to be inclusive and welcoming to all of Memphis.”

But the announcement of the film’s banishment provoked another, often profane backlash on Twitter and the theater’s Facebook page from people who loathe liberals and PC sensitivities, and from film connoisseurs who love the classic set in the slave-holding plantations of the South at the outbreak of the Civil War.

By Monday, it was hard to find anyone who approved of the move.

“Gone with the wind is problematic and racist. Always has been. If you wanna view it on your own that’s fine,” tweeted Classic Beatz.

Herman Cain, a black former GOP presidential candidate in 2012, declared on his website “the scrubbing of history continues unabated. Anyone who would like to explain the difference between this and burning books, go ahead.”

Other critics were less polite.

“Puke-eating cowards. Why stop here? Ban any movie that has whites in it,” was one of the more suitable-for-family-audience posts on Facebook by a commenter named Rick Brashear. “The perpetual whiners never let up about slavery and how it is ignored. And then when you acknowledge it, they complain about that.”

Tina Tejada-Kriby said on Facebook that as an “art and theater geek,” “GWTW is her favorite film.

“I’m a black woman, this film in no way offends me…It saddens me that this decision was made. Hattie McDaniel would have been saddened by this,” she wrote.

“Yes, this storyline takes place during a dark time in our US history, but this film is not a monument to that dark time, nor is it a celebration of that dark time (as so many of the statues that are being removed and covered seem to be). this film is a beautiful piece of art.”

Maria Puente, USA TODAY

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