As society has progressed over time, cultural touchstones from the past have become outdated and in some cases problematic. That can make revisiting classic films a little troublesome. How can we revisit, revere and respect classic movies that have such blatantly racist characters and outdated depictions of our culture? Turner Classic Movies may have the answer.
The cable network known for keeping the love for classic films alive is kicking off a new series tonight called Reframed: Classic Films in the Rearview Mirror. With films ranging from the 1920s through the 1960s, the series will host discussions about 18 culturally significant films that are considered classics of cinema but also have problematic aspects to them. The hope is to provide context so that the films can both be appreciated and scrutinized.
The Los Angeles Times called our attention to the new Turner Classic Movies Reframed series, launching tonight at 8:00 P.M. ET with a showing of Gone with the Wind. Beginning the series with one of the most well-known classic films of all time is a good way to start this series, especially after it was at the center of public outcry last year when filmmaker John Ridley asked that it be removed from the HBO Max streaming library due to its inaccurate and insensitive depiction of slavery.
Here’s what Ridley wrote along with his request, which may have been the spark for this TCM series:
“Let me be real clear: I don’t believe in censorship. I don’t think “Gone With the Wind” should be relegated to a vault in Burbank. I would just ask, after a respectful amount of time has passed, that the film be re-introduced to the HBO Max platform along with other films that give a more broad-based and complete picture of what slavery and the Confederacy truly were. Or, perhaps it could be paired with conversations about narratives and why it’s important to have many voices sharing stories from different perspectives rather than merely those reinforcing the views of the prevailing culture.”
By taking movies like Gone with the Wind and providing cultural context (just as HBO Max did when the movie returned to its library), they can be studied for their contribution to cinema but also taken to task for perpetuating stereotypes at the time which it was produced. The same approach will be given to movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which features white actor Mickey Rooney delivering an awful caricature of an Asian man named Mr. Yunioshi, and Swing Time, which includes Fred Astaire doing a routine in blackface.
Jacqueline Stewart, a University of Chicago professor who became TCM’s first Black host in 2019, will be participating in the series and offered up this statement:
“We’re showing films that really shaped the ways that people continue to think about race and gender and sexuality and ability. It was really important for the group to come together to think about how we can work with each other and work with our fans to deepen the conversations about these films.”
TCM hosts Ben Mankiewicz, Dave Karger, Alicia Malone and Eddie Muller will join Stewart throughout the series, and here’s the line-up of films that will be featured
- Gone with the Wind (1939)
- Rope (1948)
- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
- The Four Feathers (1939)
- Woman of the Year (1942)
- Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
- Gunga Din (1939)
- Sinbad the Sailor (1947)
- The Jazz Singer (1927)
- The Searchers (1956)
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
- Swing Time (1936)
- Stagecoach (1939)
- Tarzan, the Ape Man (1959)
- My Fair Lady (1964)
- The Children’s Hour (1961)
- Psycho (1960)
- Dragon Seed (1944)
Stewart added, “We know millions of people love these films We’re not saying this is how you should feel about ‘Psycho’ or this is how you should feel about ‘Gone with the Wind.’ We’re just trying to model ways of having longer and deeper conversations and not just cutting it off to ‘I love this movie. I hate this movie.’ There’s so much space in between.”
Indeed, this is an opportunity for progressive people to take a look back at classic cinema without completely dismissing them, and it’s also an open invitation for those who may not understand the issues that these movies present in these contemporary times. There’s probably something we can all learn from this series, so be sure to set your DVR to catch these movies in the Reframed series at TCM.
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