|Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara
In March this year a Cambridge University college chose Gone With the Wind
as a theme for its May ball. When Mamusu Kallon, a student at the college,
pointed out that the film "glamourises the romantic dreams of a slave owner
and a KKK member while rendering the horrors of slavery invisible" the idea
Good result. Yet it's sad that the idea was even proposed it in the first place. Why, after 12 Years a Slave, would anyone want to glamourise America's Old South?
It was the TV adaptation of Alex Haley's novel Roots in the late 1970's that opened my eyes to the realities of slavery, the golden triangle and the Old South. Tracing the author's family history back to Africa, it
started with a young man called Kunta Kinte who was captured by slavers and
transported to America.
I was thirteen years old and back then there were only 3 TV channels.
Discussing last night's TV at school was a socially bonding event.
The effect of Roots was huge. Electrifying. I mean, up until then, the
only thing any of us knew about America's deep south was based on the film
of Gone With the Wind.
I must have been about eleven when I first saw it. I remember sitting with
my best friend and annoying all the other cinema goers by giggling over the
grandiose title sequence. But, once the film started, the giggling
stopped. I was sucked in to the world of the Old South. Scarlett
tough, manipulative, determined, resourceful was a revelation. OK, so she
wasn't particularly nice. But then, Scarlett didn't give a damn about
whether people liked her or not. She was her own person: belle turned
businesswoman. Wow! She was feisty!!! At 11 years old, I was fascinated.
Many years later, when Charley O'Hara walked in to my head and took hold of
me, I started to write my latest YA novel Buffalo Soldier. Roots and
Gone With the Wind were an obvious part of my background research. When I
read the books, my feelings about Roots hadn't changed.
But Gone With the Wind? Mmmm.
Reading it was certainly a deeply abrasive experience and gave Charley a
whole lot to react to.
Margaret Mitchell was a gifted writer, but her book reflects a world that we
now recognise as being so clearly illogical and repellent. Read it, and you
can see right inside the head of a slave owner.
Or you could read Buffalo Soldier. And see it from the other side.