Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell’s novel about the antebellum South, is the second most popular book in the USA after the Bible. The Oscar-winning 1939 film adaptation of the book is the top-grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation). But to celebrated legal scholar Patricia Williams, the continued popularity of Gone with the Wind is just one example of how society has papered over the story of slavery. As she argued when she came to Intelligence Squared on May 10, this nostalgic tale full of myths about the Southern belle, Southern culture and wisteria-covered plantations may be seductive, but at its core lies slavery, which it overlooks. Instead it portrays the slave characters such as Mammy and Prissy as docile and content, more concerned with the fortunes of their masters than their own liberation.
Williams, whose maternal great-grandmother was a slave and whose great-grandfather was a slave-owner, believes this papering over of slavery lies at the heart of America’s discontent today, with its people more segregated, incarcerated and separated from each other than ever before. She unpicked the current debates around immigration, freedom of speech and the culture wars to reveal that our ability to dehumanise one another can be traced all the way from Donald Trump’s (now deleted) Twitter account to the plantation.
Speakers are subject to change.