'Gone With the Wind' is gone with the protests — so what's next?

'Gone With the Wind' is gone with the protests — so what's next?
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“Gone With the Wind” got canceled and “un-canceled,” but there’s a catch. (Isn’t there always?) HBO Max responded to an LA Times op-ed demanding that the 1939 film be memory-holed due to its troublesome portrait of the South, slavery and the Civil War. The epic drama doesn’t reflect modern thinking on race. (But then, how could it, as a product of some 80 years ago?)

Still, HBO Max’s knee-jerk reaction, clearly inspired by the George Floyd protests and riots, isn’t the right answer. Nor is its proposed compromise: An HBO Max spokesperson said the film "will return with a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions."

Who will head that discussion? Will it reflect reality or partisan posturing? Oprah WinfreyOprah Gail Winfrey'White privilege' is the biggest white lie of all Oprah Magazine buys 26 billboards demanding Louisville police arrests for Breonna Taylor's death Ted Cruz bashes Oprah for 'lecture' on race: 'What utter, racist BS' MORE’s recent town hall on race relations championed universal health care and income inequality.

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One need only consider how the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” deemed hopelessly flawed by some respected historians, won not just a Pulitzer Prize but entrance into schools nationwide.

More importantly, with all the research resources at our disposal today, viewers can do the necessary homework themselves.

It goes without saying that Hollywood stars, who speak out on virtually every issue, are staying mum on the “Gone With the Wind” troubles, as well as the abrupt TV cancellations of “Live PD” and “Cops.” Will their shows be next? The Washington Post just published a rant demanding the end of cop shows; the same writer is reaching out to stars who appear on cop shows for their input.

That would put hundreds of stars out of work, as well as thousands of behind-the-scenes talent.

It’s hard to blame celebrities on a pragmatic level. Defending the most popular movie of all time could stunt their careers. It still would be “brave,” a word tossed around too loosely in La La Land.

It’s clear that “Gone With the Wind” won’t be the only film on the woke mob’s chopping block. Is “Blazing Saddles” next? Director Mel Brooks suggests so all the time, noting he couldn’t make his classic comedy today. And for those who rightly point out that “Blazing Saddles” mocks racists, remember that the woke mob doesn’t do nuance.

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One element of the recently revived censorship debate is conveniently left out: Why are only some characters, and behaviors, worth cancelling?

Let’s agree that “Gone With the Wind” doesn’t handle racial injustices in the proper fashion. You’ll get few arguments there.

Yet, many social critics remain aghast at Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice,” which introduced the ugly, anti-Semitic term “shylock” into the English vernacular. Might the Bard of Avon be canceled next?

What about a more recent “problematic” example, like John Hughes’ “16 Candles?” That film’s sexual politics are dated, no doubt, as are its clunky Asian stereotypes. We’ve moved on, and very often that’s a sign of cultural progress.

Where does that leave Tony Soprano? He lorded over the classic HBO show for years, whacking people here, destroying lives there. He was a monster, and yet, for six seasons, we watched him vent to his therapist, hoping he would grow beyond his rage. The show’s fans were devastated when “The Sopranos” creator David Chase ended the series with a literal fade-to-black. What happened to our favorite mobsters? For every viewer who hoped karma caught up with them, dozens more wanted them to live another day. Maybe hundreds.

Wait … weren’t they the bad guys? Didn't they portray Italians in less-than-flattering ways, in the minds of many? Why isn’t the woke mob gunning for the “Bada Bing!” gang? The same holds true for Walter White of “Breaking Bad” fame, the coolest drug dealer in TV history.

Heck, we’re living in the age of antiheroes, on both TV and in film. How many men has “John Wick” killed? And yet we cheer for more, while social-justice warriors stand down, waiting to catalog the next Twitter micro-aggression.

Western culture allows for free expression and freer interpretation. We know “John Wick” is a fantasy, and the hoods that Keanu Reeves slaughters had it coming. It’s the moral pact we silently sign when we settle into our seats at the movie theater.

And thinking viewers realized that Walter White’s arc represented his moral decay, not something to be emulated.

Something similar happens with older art. We see the fading colors, hear the scratchy soundtracks, and recognize that Vivien Leigh doesn’t look like Scarlett Johansson or any other modern starlet.

Audiences can process the notion that these stories hail from another time, another set of cultural mores. We don’t take our current social cues from Clark Gable, even if some still cheer his “Gone With the Wind” kiss-off line, the best in Hollywood history.

Censorship is bad. Full stop. George Orwell even wrote a book about it, with lessons that seem extraordinarily relevant at this very moment.

Christian Toto is the editor of the conservative entertainment site “HollywoodInToto.com, the Right Take on Entertainment,” and host of the weekly “Hollywood in Toto” podcast.