Scarlett O’Hara, silhouetted against an Oscar-winning Technicolor sunset, lurches into a decimated field at her beloved plantation, Tara, and pulls what looks like a carrot out of the earth. She tries to eat it, retches, and then rises with fist upheld to swear – no – to proclaim her determination to survive at any cost, even if it means lying, stealing or killing. Standing erect amid the ruins, she dramatically climaxes with:
“As God is my witness... I’ll never be hungry again.”
George Steiner’s music swells magnificently to the occasion, the camera pans back to take in the vast spectacle, and we find ourselves at… INTERMISSION… our time to ensure – with popcorn, ice creams, slushies and booze – that we too will never be hungry again.
It’s no wonder that Vivien Leigh won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1939’s Academy Award-winning Best Picture, Gone with The Wind. In a film lasting almost four hours, she’s on-screen for almost two and a half hours in a dream role that 1400 actresses auditioned for. But even though she worked ardently on the film, almost twice as many days as co-star Clark Gable, the $25,000 she was paid amounted to less than a quarter of his fee.
The inequities did not stop there.
Leigh’s veteran co-star Hattie McDaniel who, playing “Mammy”, made history as the first black performer to win an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress) mid-way through a Hollywood career of more than 300 movies, was paid a mere $700 a week. AND she had to sit separated from the white attendees at the Academy Award presentation ceremony. AND she couldn’t attend the film’s premiere at a segregated cinema in Atlanta.
And as for prudery and prejudice, the openly gay George Cukor, the film’s original director, was replaced because the producers didn’t believe him capable of directing love scenes between men and women. (Even so, Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland secretly consulted him for guidance with their performances.) And the distinguished star Paulette Goddard, Leigh’s major rival for the role of Scarlett, missed out on the role solely because she was living “unmarried” with Charles Chaplin.
Since 1939, audiences in the USA have bought more than 200 million tickets to see Gone with The Wind, eager to buy into its dream of the good old days when Confederate plantations were visions of a lost paradise, when black people were thankful for being enslaved, and when God could be called upon to endorse lying, stealing and killing. When HBO temporarily withdrew the movie from streaming in 2020, because of these and other values that a major media corporation could no longer publicly tolerate, the move made international headlines.
But perhaps the strongest critique of the film’s lurid nostalgia is to be found in a recent video short, Never Be Hungry Again, which begins with Scarlett’s vow and leads the viewer into unsettling documentary footage of conflict and devastation. A far cry from the many affectionate gifs, memes and parodies the movie has inspired, this modestly-scaled work offers uncompromising images of oppression, destruction and war devoid of spectacular hogwash.
While the film undergoes long-needed revisiting and recontextualising, one reason that it persists in pop culture because of the versatility of the ‘As God as my witness...’ template, which is ripe for parody and satire because anything can come after the phrase, for comedic or serious effect (usually comedic, as evidenced below).
– Russell Walsh