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Civil War And Southern Charm: How Hollywood Takes On The South (audio)

Historians in the News
tags: film, racism, Civil War, Southern history, popular culture



Some of the most popular films in our nation’s cinematic history are about the life, culture and customs of the American South. “Gone With the Wind” — the story of Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara and her love life set against the backdrop of the Civil War and Reconstruction — remains one of the highest-grossing films to date. And the first film to ever be screened in the White House was the 1915 silent film “Birth of a Nation,” a film set in Civil War and Reconstruction-era South Carolina that glorifies the Ku Klux Klan. 

But despite their box office successes and large cultural footprint, these films omit crucial pieces of history, truth and nuance about the South. In this month’s Movies on the Radio, host Frank Stasio and film experts Marsha Gordon and Laura Boyes discuss how Hollywood films have shaped cultural knowledge and narratives about the region. They talk about watching films that gloss over the darker parts of Southern history, but they also explore how more contemporary films, like “Junebug” and “ATL,” resonate with viewers as true to their own experiences.

Gordon is a film professor at North Carolina State University and a public scholar at the National Endowment for the Humanities. Boyes is the film curator for the North Carolina Museum of Art and the curator of the Moviediva series at the Carolina Theater in Durham.

Southern Film: Hits and Misses

"Gone With The Wind" - MISS

Gordon: This is the idyllic plantation world where the South has been destroyed by the Civil War. That's the imagination here. … We're 80 years after the end of the Civil War, and the biggest picture of the year basically has only good things to say about life on the plantation.

Boyes: One thing that's really puzzling about it is Scarlett O'Hara has to be the least appealing heroine in many ways. She's selfish, she's mean, she's a very odd character.

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Listen to the full discussion at the link below.

Read entire article at WUNC

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