While Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable are the definitive stars of Gone with the Wind, no one can forget Mammy, the house servant played masterfully by Hattie McDaniel. How can we say otherwise, when she was the first African-American actor to win an Academy Award?
For example, take the story of one of the most complicated scenes in the movie, the staircase scene in which Mammy questions Rhett’s decision of not burying Bonnie. The scene, as Steve Wilson says in The Making of Gone with the Wind, was a complicated one from a logistical point of view, mainly because of the huge Technicolor camera.
However, even if the scene had to be shot 11 times, Hattie McDaniel managed to pull it off and convey the same emotions with the same strength every time. In the author’s opinion, this was the scene which convinced the Academy to give the award to Hattie.
But then again everybody knows now that the production of Gone with the Wind was a troubled one, starting from the beginning until the end, especially when it came to writing the script. The audience wasn’t prepared to hear all those bad words (as mentioned in a previous article, even damn was considered a profanity back then), and I am not even mentioning all the other words which, at the time, were used when talking to slaves.
And slavery was indeed depicted in a more romantic way precisely because of that. Nobody is shying away nowadays to tell it like it was. But, when Gone with the Wind was made, there were different times: for example, Hattie McDaniel was also the first African American who attended the Academy Awards as a guest and not as a servant.
So yes, the filmmakers were benevolent when it came to depicting slavery. However, it can all be blamed on the political correctness of those days: they simply didn’t want to offend any of their audience, simply because the audience was all white.
For this reason, I can also add that we should not compare slavery as depicted in Gone with the Wind with, for example, slavery as depicted in 12 Years a Slave (which won the Oscar 74 years later).
However, I can admit that tomorrow is another day and that Gone with the Wind will remain in history not as the movie that embellished slavery, but as the movie that opened a new era for all the African-Americans.