Today’s Memorable Movie Moment takes us back to 1939, to one of the most acclaimed films ever to come out of Hollywood. Gone with the Wind is director Victor Fleming‘s masterful adaptation of author Margaret Mitchell‘s epic novel surrounding the American Civil War and the Reconstruction era that followed. The film underwent several stages of production, including switching directors and screenwriters because of its importance: it was Warner Bros. top competitor against MGM’s upcoming color-release The Wizard of Oz, which was to be released the same year. The film earned 13 Oscar nominations, winning Best Picture, Best Actress (Vivien Leigh), Best Director (Fleming), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, and Best Screenplay for Sidney Howard, who became the first posthumous Academy Award winner.
Gone with the Wind also won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Hattie McDaniel (The Great Life, Song of the South). The award made Hattie the first African American to be nominated and to win an Academy Award, and her performance is today’s Memorable Movie Moment. McDaniel took the role of Mammy, the house-slave and nanny of the O’Hara family, particularly Scarlett O’Hara, the protagonist of the film. Mammy is a strong-willed and loyal servant to the O’Hara’s. She first cared for Ellen, Scarlett’s mother, and then became guardian of Scarlett when Ellen married Gerald O’Hara and moved with him to the plantation in Georgia called Tara.
The role of Mammy has received mixed reviews over the years. The character (along with author Margaret Mitchell) has come under fire for preserving the historic, yet false ideology of the South: that slaves were actually proud to serve their owners and that the Southern way of life, namely slavery for mass production and profit, was simply a way of life that all those involved, including slaves, accepted as normal. What’s more is the controversy surrounding McDaniel winning the Oscar. Stories have circulated over the years of her not even being invited to accept the award in person, nor to be acknowledged at any formal events surrounding the 1940 Academy Awards.
Despite all that, McDaniel’s recognition for her performance stands as an important step for film and for black actors throughout American history. Although many have followed in her footsteps, including Whoopi Goldberg and Halle Berry, Hattie remains as a symbol of progress in a time that was still very much reminiscent of the ideologies of the Civil War era. Here for your viewing pleasure is a scene from Gone with the Wind featuring Vivien Leigh and McDaniel as Scarlett and Mammy. This scene is noteworthy, not only for the excellent performances of the two actresses, but also because of its importance in demonstrating the relationship between Mammy and Scarlett. Mammy, a slave, is not afraid to give orders to Scarlett and insist upon her eating right and acting like a lady. Scarlett, in turn, is not afraid to say “No” to Mammy, but also does not hesitate to give into Mammy’s insistences. The dynamic between the two characters is simple, but also complex, especially as it pertains to the broader dynamic of the South. You can also see Hattie McDaniel’s acceptance speech at the 1940 Academy Award ceremony in the clip above. Enjoy!