Glorifying the Old South as It Never Was

Why Gone With The Wind Is the Worst Movie Ever Made

Peter McCarthy
Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind
Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind
Photo is in the Public Domain

Every time Gone With The Wind fills the screen with its dishonest portrait of the Old South as it was before the Civil War, I cringe. 

About the Worst Movie Ever Made

This movie is a classic because Vivian Leigh's work as a conflicted Scarlett is unforgettably heroic and Clark Gable's as Rhett is the classic movie peak of rugged individualism.

Their acclaim is well-earned. But that doesn't justify the extra baggage, the romanticizing of a culture built on slavery, for example, that comes with it.

The movie's popularity alone is a crucial piece in earning Gone With The Wind the distinction of Worst Movie Ever Made.

Other bad movies filled with bad ideas are forgotten or resurrected in order to be mocked, but not Gone With The Wind.

Gone With The Wind has been embedded in our culture. People watch it now with the same indiscretion as they show in drinking sugar water (otherwise known as soft drinks), the dangers invisible and ignored.

From scene one, this movie depicts southern plantation owners as benign innocents, loyal to their homeland, maybe a little ignorant, determined to sustain the prettified honor of their culture.

That culture, we are expected to ignore, was impossible without the enslavement of millions of African laborers, almost all the descendants of free people kidnapped and brought across the ocean in terrible conditions that resulted in cruel deaths, estimated at 20% of the human cargo, before reaching America.

Not once do we see slaves beaten or punished for not obeying the masters, a common practice on plantations for keeping order. A gross exaggeration of reality finds loyal slaves marching off to defend the Confederacy while Atlanta is falling around them.

Never do we see any of the mixed race children that were common on plantations because slave owners routinely raped the women they “owned." 

Instead, we see docile servants, each happy to serve the O'Hara family in the big house. They are undistinguishable from the household servants in contemporary films of the time, just part of the family but not quite as bright or independent.

The War as Modern Day Romantics Prefer

It's hard to say it's worse than how slavery is misrepresented, but the depictions of war may be.

As the South falls, tens of thousands injured and dead, Sherman's march on Atlanta is shown like a fall into a hell of the North's creation. The victimized Southerners, including the loyal slaves, descend into crime only as their city burns around them.

Scarlett makes her escape, loyal, ignorant servant along for the ride, with Rhett's gallant help.

We never hear that the South initiated the Civil War by attacking Fort Sumter or that their heroic General Robert E. Lee sustained the Confederacy by grinding out one of the most efficient killing machines in the history of the world up to that time. We don’t hear that he invaded the North in an attempt to take the capital and the rest of the country, safe for slavery, with it.

Three-quarters of a million people were lost because, more than anything else, the South was desperate to keep slavery and the plantation culture it supported alive — on the backs of millions of lives in chains.

Finally, scenes of the terrible suffering of soldiers returned maimed and dying to the streets of Atlanta, ignoring their dubious cause, are heartbreaking, another suggestion of Southerners dying for a just cause.

Nearby in Andersonville, Union prisoners are held in the most deplorable conditions humanity has ever known, dying in filth from disease and hunger. Andersonville, where the noble Southerners inflicted the grossest inhumanity on thousands of helpless prisoners goes unmentioned in Gone With the Wind.

Reality would spoil the fantasy of the horrors the South committed to save slavery.

The American Civil War was the worst disaster in our history. More people died than in all our other wars combined.

It was fought when the Confederacy invoked their claim for States Rights because their entire economy was dependent on massive slavery and they feared that it would be banned.

Conclusion

Gone With The Wind sustains the myth of Southern honor, as if there really was more at stake than preserving culture dependent on kidnapping, rape and enslavement.

And it romanticizes conditions to the extent that it's impossible to see any evil in the pre-war Southern plantation lifestyle. Why would Northerners ever want to destroy the charms and grace of the South?

I hate this movie, its endless propaganda.

That it has become an admired classic is a demonstration of our national preference for romanticized ignorance over reality.

It's almost as if slavery didn't exist, certainly none of its evils, except as a detached concept.

Disclaimer: I once wrote that Amadeus was the worst movie ever made, but I was wrong. I didn't realize that it was really Gone With The Wind until I made the mistake of trying to watch this lump of soupy propaganda recently. I apologize to the makers of Amadeus for knocking it off the pedestal.

Gone with the Wind is the worst movie ever made, an exploitation film designed to clean up the horror of slavery and replace it with a genteel fantasy of sophisticated plantation owners victimized by the North.

What do you think?