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Sew The Wind; Reap The Whirlwind—Let’s Talk ‘Gone With the Wind’

What do we do about movies like Gone with the Wind?

It was the fall of 1974, start of my sophomore year at the University of South Carolina when I took my first film appreciation class.  It was a chronological study, beginning as these sorts of cinema studies nearly always do with the Lumiere brothers and “L’arrivee d’un train a la Ciotat” (1896), Melies and “Le voyage dans la lune” (1902), some Chaplin and Keaton shorts…and then the biggie:  D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915).

Our instructor, the brilliant Dr. Benjamin “Bernie” Dunlap, even as he emphasized the undeniable importance of the film in the evolution of the medium, warned us beforehand about its equally undeniable and blatant racism (no surprise as the source novel for the film had the eyebrow-raising title, The Clansman:  An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan; the film was, in fact, originally titled The Clansman).  I don’t think there was a student in that auditorium who didn’t cringe at the cartoonish portrayals of African Americans, made even more offensive by often being played by white actors in blackface.

I didn’t think myself naïve about racism at the time, yet still managed to be surprised at how – in what I thought was the progressive 1970s – it could still manifest itself.  But then, I kept forgetting the state’s history.

South Carolina had been the first state to secede from the Union, and the Civil War had begun with the shelling of Ft. Sumter off the Carolina coast.  Over a century later, the state capitol – right next door to our campus – still flew the Confederate flag underneath the Stars and Stripes.  There were Klan demonstrations on the steps of that same building during my years there, and when two friends of mine – one white and one black – went looking for an apartment together, the landlord told my white buddy, “I’d rent you one,” and then to my African American pal, “and the law says I got to rent you one, but nothing says I got to rent you one together,” and turned them away.

Later in the semester, when we looked at documentaries, we screened another film that was both a major accomplishment in filmmaking and one of the classics of its genre, and just as problematic as …Nation if in a very different way:  Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935), her visually stunning if morally reprehensible love letter to the Nazis and Adolph Hitler, filmed as the party faithful gathered to worship der Fuhrer during their ginormous 1934 Nuremberg rally. 

As it happens, during this same stretch, I had the opportunity to see Gone with the Wind (1939) for the first time.  You have to remember that in those pre-cable/pre-home video/pre-streaming days, the only way to see classic oldies was when they resurfaced on TV once or twice a year, or, if a studio still considered a title a big enough draw, during an occasional theatrical re-release.  MGM considered GWTW such a theatrical evergreen that, at that time, they’d still not licensed the film to TV (which didn’t happen until 1976), instead running it through a number of re-releases (I can’t vouch for my accuracy here, but I’m willing to bet the movie is probably one of the most theatrically re-released titles in American film).  I finally managed to see it when it was screened at our campus movie theater which ran a mix of oldies and recent releases every night of the week.

I’d been curious about the film having heard and read about it for years, and seen it consistently praised as one of the all-time American film classics.  But on viewing, while I was suitably impressed with the production, I was also, well, a bit underwhelmed in some ways.

I found the film sentimental, sometimes to the point of schmaltz; some of the acting bordered on Victorian melodrama (I’m thinking especially of Leslie Howard’s Ashley Wilkes; this is the guy Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara wanted over Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler?  Puh-leeze!); and as to its treatment of slavery, well, let’s just say I’m sure D.W. Griffith approved (he was still kicking at the time).

While I could see why black audiences would be offended – and I didn’t and don’t disagree – and had been since the movie’s debut, maybe because I didn’t revere the movie as so many others did, I didn’t think much of the issue at the time.  The movie romanticized American slavery?  Hell, the movie romanticized everything, so I just thought of its treatment of enslaved African Americans as part and parcel of its generally sugary worldview.

A few weeks ago, as many of you know, WarnerMedia pulled Gone with the Wind from its HBO Max service (WarnerMedia, previously Time Warner before its acquisition by AT&T, also includes Turner Communications which owns the MGM library which includes GWTW; full disclosure, I worked for HBO 1982-2009), then recently restored it to the service, according to Todd Spangler in Variety, “…with two additional videos that discuss the historical context of the classic film.”  One video features film scholar Jacqueline Stewart on the film, the other is an hour-long panel discussion from a 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival on “The Complicated Legacy of Gone with the Wind.”

That in mind, it’s hard for me not to give the issue more thought than I had forty-five years ago.

That thinking takes place against the backdrop of massive nationwide (actually, global) BLM protests in the wake of the George Floyd killing, calls to defund/dismantle police departments, the removal and tearing down of Confederate monuments as well as the vandalizing of other national icons, the widening removal and/or banning of the Confederate flag, talk of renaming U.S. military installations named after Confederate officers, Quaker Oats’ announcement that they’re going to change the name and images on Aunt Jemima’s syrup and pancake mix, Mars Inc. is looking to do the same for Uncle Ben’s rice, Land O’Lakes has already announced the kneeling Native American woman on their butter packaging has sold her last bar of butter, and there’s talk of renaming Santa Ana, California’s John Wayne Airport because of Wayne’s comments on race.

There is a constituency – white, I presume – which, seeing so much of the imagery they grew up with either under attack or being removed, feels under siege.  They don’t see the problem the aggrieved see, or that the problems are as bad as the aggrieved think, or “Yeah, I get it, but aren’t we carrying this a bit too far?”  Of course, if you grow up in a persistently, multi-generationally white-dominant culture where you’re not even aware of how casually and, to be fair, not even always consciously it’s been — oh, let’s give it a polite label – racially insensitive, that kind of reaction is predictable and understandable.

I’m a middle-aged, suburban white male.  I have every reason not to trust my judgment on any of this.  Still, when this recent news about Gone with the Wind broke, I felt compelled to say something.

I’m a movie guy.  I’ve been studying film, writing about film, teaching film, even working in one aspect of the business or another most of my adult life.  How could I not say something?

Problem is, I’m not sure what to say.


The easiest yet perhaps most honest fallback response to people on any side of the issue (I’ve come to believe it has multiple sides) is, “It’s complicated.”  I’m not saying that to be evasive or gutless (well, maybe a little of the latter), but when it comes to what’s offensive, well, it is complicated.  I learned that at HBO.

For most of my 27 years at the company, I dealt with complaints from groups and individuals, including VIPs and government officials, who’d taken offense at something we’d aired.  Name a constituency, and I can probably remember something we’d had on the service they thought was out of bounds.  Italian anti-defamation groups complained every season of The Sopranos, Mormons hated Big Love, the NRA hated our documentaries on gun violence as well as the eco-friendly kiddie cartoon series Seabert the Seal Pup, a documentary about a case of child abuse by priests brought accusations we were anti-Catholic, our programming for Black History Month brought complaints we were slighting other racial and ethnic groups, a one-liner from Bobcat Goldthwait during a stand-up comedy special brought the Scientologists and their attorneys to our door, women hated Andrew Dice Clay, and on and on and on.  Hell, when we ran the awful 1991 theatrical Shakes the Clown, we even got flak from clown associations!  When we started airing Real Time with Bill Maher in 2003, my department would watch his show Friday night to see who the acid-tongued Maher would skewer, and come in Monday morning making bets about which offended constituency (or constituencies) we’d be hearing from that day.

Some grievances could make your head spin.  I still remember the woman who objected to the profanity on The Sopranos.  I explained that the characters were a bunch of brutal hoods; they were not going to be watching their language.

Ah, but I had misunderstood.  The fucks, shits, assholes, motherfuckers, cocksuckers — she was fine with that kind of thing.  Profanity, she patiently explained, was the use of the Lord’s name in vain.  To her, a “Goddammit!” was more offensive than a, “Go fuck your mother, asshole!”

Along those same lines, Tony Soprano could be a murderer, adulterer, druggie, thief, extortionist, etc.  Name a crime or moral offense, and that was fine.  And that he had a mouth like a sewer rat, that was fine, too.  He could be ethically, morally, and in every way a moral cesspool….but he couldn’t also be a racist.  That was offensive!

There was an episode where Tony Soprano (the late great James Gandolfini) gets food poisoning, and the only doctor they can get on short notice is Indian.  After the doctor leaves, Tony makes some sort of disparaging remark about the doctor’s race.

Next day, a woman called who, I guessed by her accent, apparently shared the same heritage as the good doctor.  She didn’t object to Tony being a racist; that was to be expected in such a conscienceless hood.  But she found his racist language offensive.  Again, not his racist attitude, but only his racist language.

In our exchange, I said, “What you’re saying is if we made a movie about the Holocaust, you could accept the Nazis being anti-Semitic, we just couldn’t have them using anti-Semitic language.”

“That’s right.”

While sometimes my head wanted to explode dealing with the million gradients of what did and didn’t offend people, I also learned you couldn’t tell someone, “You’re wrong.”  You could make a case for why something was on the service, why we thought a portrayal was valid, talk about the First Amendment, but telling someone they shouldn’t be offended when they were offended wasn’t going to make them any less offended.  You’re hurt by what hurts you.  Period.

So, as a provider and/or creator of content, what’s the right move?  What’s fair?  What’s just?  What do you do?

At this point, I’m not sure.

That, for decades, Hollywood dealt in racist and ethnic stereotypes is hardly a new conversation although recent events have turned up the heat on the topic.  Blacks may have suffered most egregiously, but countless miles of American film are populated with war-whooping Native Americans, grinning Hispanic bandidos, pidgin-English chattering Chinese, bucktoothed Japanese, temperamental Italians, boozy Irishmen, et al.  If you weren’t a WASPy white male and presumably Christian, for a half-century or better you were probably getting dinged by Hollywood, sometimes gently, sometimes obliviously, sometimes in the most insulting manner.  I wager it is the rare Hollywood movie pre-1960 (or so) incorporating racial and/or ethnic content that doesn’t have a “complicated legacy” including any number of acknowledged classics, like, say, Casablanca (1942) with Bogie’s piano-playing sidekick Sam (Dooley Wilson), for instance, or Mae West’s maids in I’m No Angel (1933), or the loyal personal slave Lukey (Althea Gibson) to plantation queen Constance Towers in John Ford’s Civil War tale, The Horse Soldiers (1959), or John Wayne’s equally loyal ranch hand Pompey (Woody Strode) in Ford’s melancholy The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

Why would it be any other way?  After all – and this might be a bit of a generalization, but not by much, I think – Hollywood was a white-run industry making white movies for a predominantly white audience. 

In the context of the times, this made a sad sort of sense.  For a century after the Emancipation Proclamation, in some states by law and in others by practice, the U.S. remained a highly segregated country.  If blacks (and other races) were more or less invisible on the movie screen, at least in any realistic portrayal, that’s because they were largely invisible to most white Americans (and, surprisingly, still are in some parts of the country which fuels a persistent paranoia in those pockets about people of color both native-born and immigrant).

Bit by bit, beginning in earnest post-WW II and accelerating in the 1960s/70s, American movies seemed to be trying to redress the imbalance, increasingly taking on tough subjects like racism, anti-Semitism, the mistreatment of Native Americans, the second-class status of women, homophobia…

And with those progressive steps came a new slew of headaches which, at some point, could make someone in the business wonder, as they reached for their roll of antacids, whether or not there was any fair and honest way to get this right.


Post-WW II, Hollywood “woke” up (pun intended).  A number of gutsy, confrontational movies about various shades of bigotry started showing up on screens:  Crossfire (1947), No Way Out (1950), Home of the Brave (1949), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), Apache (1954), among many, many others.

The industry’s heart may have been in the right place (or at least the hearts of some well-intentioned filmmakers), but there was always a problem getting the right tone nailed down, like trying to fine-tune into a radio signal but just catching snatches of the message.

The understandable move was sanctification of the offended parties.  If African Americans or Native Americans had only ever been portrayed in the broadest forms of negative stereotypes, then the offense would be redressed by portraying them in only the most positive lights:  morally impeccable, endlessly compassionate, unflinchingly courageous, infinitely forbearing, and probably most importantly (to white audiences, anyway) forgiving.  Think Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), or Sidney Poitier in, well, anything he was in from the 1950s into the late 1960s.  It was as if American movies were paying back a debt…with compounding vig.

I suppose this was, in light of the decades of shorting minorities, not much of a sin, but it produced its own stereotypes:  the proud and noble savage Native American, the proud but humble black toiler, the proud but meek Mexican campesino.  The idea that any of these non-white/non-Christian types could be a three-dimensional human being with flaws and foibles like anybody else, well, it’s not that that wasn’t recognized, but that was a hell of a trickier message to get across and maybe should be left for another, better, more open-minded day.

Keep in mind that these were, after all, movies made not to compensate minority audiences for past years of indifference or stereotyping, but to convince the white audiences who were still buying most of the tickets to be more accepting of people who didn’t look like them.

Which explains some outrageous, tone-deaf miscasting of minority roles.  John Ford’s late career Western epic Cheyenne Autumn (1964) seemed to be the director’s all-in, passionate atonement for all those Ford flicks with bad guy Indians:  his cavalry Westerns, movies like Two Rode Together (1961), and one of his all-time greats, The Searchers (1956; there’s a “complicated legacy” for you!).  Based on the true story of the tribe leaving their reservation for their ancestral lands, Ford gave us several major “noble savage” characters…and not one was played by a Native American actor.  The three Cheyenne principals were played by Gilbert Roland and Ricardo Montalban (both Mexican by birth), and Sal Mineo (Italian descent).

But that was typical:  blue-eyed Burt Lancaster played the title role in the equally sincere, Apache as well as the lead in Jim Thorpe:  All American (1951; Thorpe was a member of the Sac and Fox tribe; FYI the actor also played a Mexican in Valdez Is Coming [1971]); Tony Curtis (born Bernard Schwartz) played Ira Hayes, the Pima Indian who helped raise the American flag during the WW II battle of Iwo Jima, in The Outsider (1961); Rock Hudson (!!!!) played a Sioux chief in Winchester ’73 (1950);  Robert Blake (born Michael Gubitosi of Italian immigrant parents) and Katherine Ross (yup, the same WASPy princess from The Graduate [1967]) played fugitive Paiutes in Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969)Mexican-born Anthony Quinn once joked about the roles of his early career saying, “They said all I was good for was playing Indians.”

(Hombre [1967] does a split-the-difference maneuver in a story about white mistreatment of Native Americans.  The main character is white, but was raised since childhood by Apaches, so he thinks of himself – as do the bigots he shares a stagecoach ride with – as an Apache which is how we get to have Paul Newman playing the part of victimized minority.)

And so we don’t leave any other minorities out, there’s Mickey Rooney’s outrageously offensive portrayal of Audrey Hepburn’s Japanese neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and Natalie Wood playing a half-black-passing-as-white in WW II drama Kings Go Forth (1958)And speaking of Natalie Wood (born Natalia Zacharenko), there she is playing a Puerto Rican and the sister of George Chakiris (son of Greek immigrants) in West Side Story (1961)Oh, and a personal favorite of mine:  Marlon Brando (German, Dutch, English, Irish blood) going Italian in the title role of The Godfather (1972) with James Caan (son of German Jewish immigrants) playing one of his sons.  And how can we not mention the blue-eyed likes of Irish Catholic Jeffrey Hunter and, more improbably, Sweden’s Max von Sydow playing that most famous of Middle Eastern Jews, Jesus, in King of Kings (1961) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) respectively?

But before we shake our heads, wincing and/or laughing and saying, “Jeez, what were they thinking?” it’s worth keeping in mind that there’s a good possibility some (maybe all) of these movies – the good, the bad, the indifferent, and, yes, the great – might not have gotten made without these heavyweight names attached.  I’m not excusing these moves, I’m just making the point that, well, like I said:  it’s complicated.

It does raise the issue of how much credit do you give good intentions, and how much latitude do you allow for the fact that, as has often been said, the one color Hollywood always sees clearly and brightly…is green.

Which brings us to White Savior movies; you know, where some white guy (or white guys, or white gal/gals) in one way or another comes to rescue the helpless oppressed of color from their plight as only the whites can i.e. The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Blind Side (2009), Return of a Man Called Horse (1970), Dangerous Minds (1996), The Help (2011), Dances with Wolves (1990), Glory (1989), Gran Torino (2008), Mississippi Burning (1988), The Last Samurai (2003), Three Kings (1999), Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), A Time to Kill (1996), Tears of the Sun (2003), Green Book (2018), and a slew more.

It can be particularly grating to the minority party when the story is derived from true events i.e. The Blind Side, Glory, Mississippi Burning, Green Book et al, and the story – particularly the racial elements – have been skewed and/or sanded down to make the whites the heroes in a story that – as it’s been argued – isn’t theirs (or theirs to the extent the reworked facts make it seem).

Mississippi Burning is a good example of the dynamic, but also of “complicated legacies.”  The film is a fictionalized version of the FBI’s investigation into the KKK’s murder of three civil rights workers in the early 1960s.  It was directed by Alan Parker (British white guy) and written by Chris Gerolmo (American white guy), and despite being nominated for seven Oscars and being a commercial success, was immediately taken to task by black leaders for taking a story about the fight for civil rights and making two white guys (FBI agents Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe) the heroes.  Benjamin Hooks, then executive director for the NAACP, said the movie’s playing with history “…reeks with dishonesty, deception and fraud,” and also slammed the film for its portrayal of African Americans as “…cowed, submissive and blank-faced.”

So, here’s the rub.  You have to ask yourself if, back in 1988, without a hot director like Alan Parker and a marquee name like Gene Hackman, would a movie about nailing Klansmen for the murder of civil rights workers have been greenlit?  And would it have come in #39 on the 1989 box office chart (the movie was released late in 1988 so most of its earnings occurred in 1989)?  A black story gets turned into a white story but, in the process, brings more white people to a black story than might have happened otherwise.  Is that a good thing?  You tell me.

Almost thirty years later, we’re still having that same debate.  Green Book (written and directed by white guys) did $85 million domestic.  Yeah, not only was it another White Savior flick, but you could also knock it for being a soft-edged feel-good movie that oversimplified and shaved off some of the edges of the true story to help it go down easier.  I get the issues with it.

On the other hand, there’s Barry Jenkins’ (black writer/director) more lyrical, delicate, and emotionally complex Moonlight, released the same year.  Moonlight is a truly one-of-a-kind piece, honest and uncompromising in its story (based on an unpublished autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney) of the coming of age of a gay black man in America.  It did $27.8 million domestic.

The dilemma here – the practical vs. the ethical vs. the exploitational – isn’t new.

Back in February, you might remember this site commemorated Black History Month with a salute to “blaxploitation” films.  For the first time, a host of black directors were working for major studios telling black stories for black audiences, i.e. Gordon Parks kicking off the wave with Shaft (1971), Ossie Davis (Gordon’s War, 1973), Ivan Dixon (Trouble Man, 1972), Gordon Parks, Jr. (Super Fly, 1972).

But as I wrote that month in my look at Across 110th Street (1972):

“While there was a lot of talk at the time about how blaxploitation movies represented some kind of black empowerment, the NAACP (which came up with the ‘blaxploitation’ label) decried them as less about empowerment than reinforcing black stereotypes with their heavy reliance on super-macho heroes (or, more often, anti-heroes) and violence.”

The NAACP might’ve preferred more movies like Gordon Parks’ The Learning Tree (1969), his sensitive semi-autobiographical tale about growing up black in mostly-white Kansas, but …Tree grossed $1.5 million.  His kick-ass Shaft did $12.1 million.

I’m less worried about some aspects of race in movies going forward.  Box office hits like Hidden Figures (2016, $170 million, although it has been dinged as a White Savior flick), BlacKKKlansman (2018, $49.3 million), Crazy Rich Asians (2018, $174.5 million), and especially Black Panther (2018, a holy shamoley $700 million domestic) are powerful demonstrations that entertaining, empowering stories about people of color can not only hold their own in the commercial mainstream, but appeal across the Crayola spectrum of today’s more diversified audiences.  Hollywood may still be primarily a business run by whites, but the moviegoing audience – and the moviemaking community — is getting more rainbowy by the day, and the people in the executive suites know this.

Still, it’s worth reminding ourselves, when any discussion about Hollywood’s moral obligations move into heady philosophical realms, that the movie business is not some public trust.  It’s a business, often crassly commercial in its workings.  Whether the industry says and does the wrong thing or the right thing, it’s always done so with an eye on the bottom line.  Hollywood has always and will always chase the money.  The good news is, at least as I see it, is there’s been enough major successes (and, yeah, you have to throw in White Savior movies because they do add to the score) to prove there’s countless stories still untold about peoples who’ve lived in this country usually unseen for much of its history.

But what do we do about Gone with the Wind and the other hundreds (if not more) movies that are, as apologists like to say, “products of their time”?  Do they all get explanatory videos tacked on?

(Not that I think that’ll do any good.  In the first place, I doubt anybody is going to sit through Gone with the Wind and then sit through two hours of explanatory videos.  And even if you did, my feeling is, if you’re white and don’t see the problem, nothing any cinema guru says is going to change your mind.  And if you’re black, nothing said is going to make images of happy slaves any more palatable.)

Can you pretend The Birth of a Nation never happened?  It’s the movie where movies grew up, where they began to become movies as we know them today, the movie that gave the medium the grammar it still uses.  Do we burn prints of Triumph of the Will because it was cinematic brilliance – visually stunning in a way few fiction films have achieved – in service of a great evil?  I’m not any more for a sweeping purge of problematic art (or even problematic work that’s “just” entertainment) than I am of ignoring its racially and/or ethnically offensive elements.  How do you balance that scale?

I don’t know.  I honestly don’t, and God knows, I wish I did.  It’s hard for me to write off so many titles in the American movie canon because they were so typical of their era in how they viewed race, sexuality, and gender.  At the same time, as a white, middle-aged suburban male, it’s not like they’re hard for me to live with.

I’m Italian American.  If a fair number of oldies featured broad jokes and caricatures of “guineas” and “wops,” maybe I’d have a better idea of what it feels like to live in the environment filled with the outdated iconography that blacks, Native Americans, gays, even women have to live with on a daily basis.  Is going after Aunt Jemima going too far?  Well, if she were a fat Italian mama with a mustache and the slogan on the bottle was, “For a WOPping good breakfast!” I’d probably understand the sense of insult better.

But I’m also wary of overcorrection, that we go so far to avoid offense that we unrealistically sanitize legitimate dramatic material, and as the national mood swings from one kind of backlash to another, I consider that a real concern.  I’m not trying to justify any kind of insensitivity, but I’m thinking of The Godfather, Blazing Saddles (1974), Training Day (2001), and how under certain circumstances, they might never have gotten made.  I remember movies going through a wave of this kind of oversensitivity in the late 1960s/early 1970s, and the example I never forgot is of that archetypal vigilante flick Death Wish (1974).  In the movie, Charles Bronson’s wife and daughter are assaulted by an impossibly racially diverse gang – practically a kumbaya union of lowlifes — so no one could accuse the movie of prejudice against any one race (not that this kind of ridiculousness made the movie any less lurid).   I honest-to-God don’t know how you balance authenticity, commercial viability, and fairness.

And then there’s that point that came up in my years at HBO:  one person’s offense is another person’s biting satire.  Think Blazing Saddles, a movie which was intended as a frontal assault on racism and did it by being intentionally tasteless and unrestrained in its lampooning of racist tropes…which meant using racist tropes as well as a liberal use of the n-word.  Mel Brooks has oft said the movie could probably never get made today.  That’s understandable and, at the same time, sad.

I got a more recent taste of how subjective – and sometimes bewildering – offensiveness can be.  There’s a cable channel:  INSP (previously The Inspiration Network).  The channel, according to their FAQ, “…is committed to provide a ‘safe’ environment for all viewers of all ages…Because of this commitment, we review all programs, and, at times, feel it is appropriate to edit segments.”  Most of INSP’s programming consists of old TV Westerns like The Big Valley and Gunsmoke, but on weekend nights they run Western movies, including a lot of John Wayne flicks.  Recently, they aired The Cowboys (1972).  If you don’t know the story, Wayne is a rancher who, desperate for hands on a cattle drive, hires on a group of young boys.  Nasty ol’ Bruce Dern kills Wayne and steals the cattle.  This turns the boys into steely-eyed killers who avenge Wayne by killing Dern and his gang.  Here’s the interesting part:  every little “damn” and “hell” in the dialogue was bleeped out because, evidently, that creates an unsafe environment for INSP’s viewers.  But that shoot-’em-up finale where little kids shoot down all the bad guys was left fully intact, blood spurts and all.  Somehow that’s safer.

So, what’s the right call for the movies made yesterday, and the ones that are going to be made tomorrow?  What’s the good course?  Keeping in mind what I learned at HBO, my feeling is no matter what you do, somebody’s going to get pissed off.

As for me…


Some years ago, I wrote a novel (based around a screenplay by two other writers for an unreleased movie) in which several major characters were black; some good, one not so good.  One of those characters was not only black but a woman as well.  I took the project on because I thought it was an interesting story about race, and I even reworked it to be re-published during the Trump era because I thought, sadly, the story had become more topically relevant.  I would not have taken it well if someone had told me I shouldn’t be writing that story…because I was white, because I was male, because I was a white male.  But at the same time, I was terrified about getting it wrong, being keenly aware of the presumptuousness of writing across both race and gender lines.

I know it’s no excuse to tell an offended party, “I meant well.”  But, for what it’s worth, I tried.

I keep trying.

Written By

Bill Mesce, Jr.'s books include Overkill: The Rise and Fall of Thriller Cinema, the recently published The Wild Bunch: The American Classic That Changed Westerns Forever (McFarland), and The Screenwriter's Notebook: Reflections, Analyses, and Chalk Talk on the Craft and Business of Writing for the Movies (Serving House), as well as the novel Median Gray (Willow River Press) and Inside the Rise of HBO: A Personal History of the Company That Transformed Television.

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