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Hrmm, Appropriation Issues Much?

Oh look, another case of "transformative work becomes literature when a white man does it."

Mammy Revealed, and Not Just Her Red Petticoat; ‘Gone With the Wind’ Prequel Coming in October

Mitchell was criticized for the one-dimensional nature of many African-American characters in the book, particularly Mammy, who cared for the fiery Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara. An unauthorized parody of the classic novel, “The Wind Done Gone,” published in 2001 over the objections of the Mitchell estate, was told from the perspective of a slave whose mother was Mammy.

Mr. Borland said the new book addresses those criticisms head on.

“What’s really remarkable about what Donald has done is that it’s a book that respects and honors its source material, but it also provides a necessary correction to what is one of the more troubling aspects of the book, which is how the black characters are portrayed,” Mr. Borland said.

In an email, Mr. McCaig, 73, who lives on a farm in Virginia, said that he was drawn to write about Ruth because there are “three major characters in ‘Gone With the Wind,’ but we only think about two of them.”

“Scarlett and Rhett are familiars, but when it comes to the third, we don’t know where she was born, if she was ever married, if she ever had children,” he said. “Indeed, we don’t even know her name,” he said. “Ruth’s Journey” also fleshes out the story of one of the more compelling figures in “Gone With the Wind,” Ellen Robillard O’Hara, the matriarch of the clan, who dies at the Tara plantation during the Civil War. Among the other new plot twists Mr. McCaig dreamed up: Ruth, has an early marriage that was not broached in “Gone With the Wind”; and she has a connection to Rhett Butler’s family that explains her hostile behavior toward Rhett later in the classic novel.

You know, I'm really fascinated by this, but my hackles are up that they hired an OLD WHITE MAN to tell a BLACK WOMAN'S STORY. Now in fairness, from the article it sounds like they hired McCaig to do a prequel, and he said that he wanted to do it about Mammie, which is a little different, but still. I really, really want a serious treatment of this issue (the parody The Wind Done Gone was a story told from the POV of Scarlett's mulatto half-sister, which sounds GREAT, but the excerpts I read online were TERRIBLE, without--as near as I can tell--any historical understanding or reflection on historical race issues etc etc) but I don't think this is it.

Let's consider Django Unchained as the other recent black slave's story told by a white man narrative (note: I enjoyed parts of the film and what it tried to do, but damn it went wrong in so. many. places.). Here's Jesse Williams's (yes, the actor, who used to be a history teacher and who is also just a fucking brilliant author and analyst) essay on Django, In Chains

In the film's opening sequence, shackled blacks literally hold the key to their shackles and don't use them, choosing instead to trudge forward, hindered by biting chains, to kill a white man. In the third act, after seeing Django kill the Australians, the blacks sitting in an open cage neither communicate with each other or consider stepping outside of the cage.

In fact, in this entire, nearly three-hour film, there are no scenes with black people interacting, or even looking at each other, in a respectful or productive way.

If only one black person (Django) displays the vaguest interest in gaining freedom, while the rest consistently demonstrate that they wouldn't do anything with that freedom, were they to obtain it, then we're not able to become invested in them or their pursuits: We can't relate to shiftless characters. Being illiterate, and/or brown, does not remove the ability to think, or observe or yearn or plan or develop meaningful relationships.


"Django" is just a random guy, who, to no credit of his own, was plucked from slavery by an impressive white man and led on a journey to save his wife.

Co-opting narratives is always problematic, but even more so when it's white authors co-opting racial narratives in a country that is still dealing with these issues. (As Aasif Mandvi recently pointed out on The Daily Show mock-seriously, we're "still reeling from a civil war.") You only need to consider the problems of stories like The Help (in which the Civil Rights movement is personified through the voice of a white woman) or, Gods help us, A Song of Ice and Fire (you know, Daenerys having to explain to all the brown people that slavery is wrong. *headdesk*). Or, even better, the yet more recent case of 12 Years a Slave posters focusing on the white stars:

I especially love Brad Pitt's halo.


Now, all of this isn't to say I don't think white writers can tell the stories of non-whites effectively, or with care. I think it can be done, but I think A LOT has to go into considerations of cultural appropriation, historicity, and think-checking one's own privilege, and all too often, neither of things happen. Hence we end up with Racefail and, you know, The Last Airbender *shudder*


This book is problematic.


( 5 comments — Add your .02 )
Mar. 28th, 2014 04:57 am (UTC)
*stands and applauds*
Mar. 28th, 2014 03:58 pm (UTC)
Apr. 2nd, 2014 06:28 pm (UTC)
I tried to read 'The Wind Done Gone' when it was first published but I think the 'joke' just fell flat for me and I didn't know why until you articulated it. I do think white authors can handle non-white characters well, just look what Twain did with Jim, but I'd rather read a story about the 'other' written from the 'other's' point of view. I'm going to have to check out William's article on Django, didn't know he was a history teacher before he pursued acting. Fine and smarg? Yes, please! See, this is why miss the heyday of livejournal, you just can't have this kind of discourse on tumblr. Also, hello!
Apr. 2nd, 2014 06:29 pm (UTC)
Apr. 2nd, 2014 06:39 pm (UTC)
Do you read http://medievalpoc.tumblr.com? It's one of the ones that makes me seriously think about breaking down and getting an account.
( 5 comments — Add your .02 )

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