This is an entry in the Hit Me With Your Best Shot series, in which you watch a movie every week, and then pick your favorite shot. Thanks again to the marvelous Nathaniel Rogers for hosting the series over at The Film Experience.
Gone with the Wind is my mom’s favorite movie. Her other favorite movie is The Wizard of Oz, which makes her a big fan of the cinematic output of the year 1939. She loves Gone with the Wind so much, that she was almost offended when I told her that it was regarded by a lot of people as a deeply racist movie. Now, this is not to say that my mom is a racist, but she was born and raised in Peru, which means she doesn’t carry the baggage of America’s racial history. Instead, she carries the baggage of Peru’s racial history, which is in many ways similar to America’s, but does have some dramatic differences. As fate would have it, I think it’s precisely this baggage, and the effect it had in her life, that makes Gone with the Wind so dear to her heart.
In order to understand my mother’s love for this movie, you’ll have to learn a little bit of contemporary Peruvian history. My mom was born in 1964, to a relatively wealthy family that owned large chunks of agricultural land in the northern coast of Peru. In 1968, General Juan Velasco Alvarado lead a coup d’etat that resulted in a left-wing military dictatorship. Perhaps the new regime’s biggest goal was generating racial equality by highlighting the culture of the indigenous populations. One of the programs designed ti aid this initiative was an agrarian reform, which expropriated land and put in the hands of the workers. Suddenly, my mom’s family no longer owned any land; and all they were given in return were worthless government bonds.
My mom is too young to remember too much about the days before the agrarian reform, but rest assure that she heard about it throughout her whole life. Even I, have been witness to countless retellings of the family’s glory days, and the hardship that followed. Now that you know it, you will agree that the story of my mom’s family clearly resembles the plot of Gone with the Wind. After all, this is a movie about people who can’t move on from a past that doesn’t belong to them anymore. I don’t want to go off on too much of a tangent, so I’ll just point out to a great article by “Alison”, which Nathaniel linked to this week and deals precisely with the notion of people clinging to the past, and the question of what makes Gone with the Wind endure as a classic movie despite its flaws.
Now, sure, the story of the lost riches is the story she was told over and over since she was a child, and sure, Gone with the Wind is a racist movie (despite all its wonderful elements, there really is no other way to put it), but neither of these elements lies at the heart of my mother’s fandom. You see, the real reason why my mom loves Gone with the Wind is very simple. Her name is Scarlett O’Hara. Perhaps the most important and influential figure in my mother’s life was her aunt Elsa. She was largely responsible for raising my mother, especially when she lived in the small town of Pacasmayo, while her parents were working in the Capital. Elsa was what you would call a strong woman. I’d say she was the strongest woman I have ever met. While her family was rich, she would take care of the daily operations of the family business more so than any of her brothers and sisters, and after the revolution, she worked as hard as she could to garner the money to support herself and her loved ones (including my mother). She never married. Instead, she dedicated her life to her family.
There is no doubt in my mind that when my mom sees Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, what she really sees is her aunt Elsa. Leigh’s performance as Scarlett is obviously nothing short of magnificent. Despite the character’s most unlikable behavior, despite her selfishness, and her vanity, Leigh always makes her humanity shine through. It helps that she is by far the most lively character in the movie, but at the end of the day, it’s her strength and her willingness to endure no matter how many times she is stripped of everything she owns, that makes her such a memorable heroine. “After all, tomorrow is another day” is the mantra of someone who has nothing to lose, but will not stop until she regains what she values most.
This isn’t really my favorite show in Gone with the Wind, but instead the one that best represents my mother’s love for the movie, which is honestly what I think about the most every time I see it. Given what you just read, I think I couldn’t have picked any other shot.