Directed by Victor Fleming, produced by Selznick International Pictures, and based on a 1936 novel by Margarett Mitchel, 1939’s Gone with the Wind is generally recognized as one of the greatest films of all time. Set in the 1800s in the American South, it tells the story of the Civil War and Reconstruction period from a white southern perspective. In this scene, the protagonist, Scarlett (Vivien Leigh), is getting dressed for a barbeque with the help of her house slave and maid, Mammy (Hattie McDaniel). Mammy is depicted as servile but stern, strict but loving. McDaniel went onto win the Academy Award for her role, the first African American to do so. She was forced to sit at a racially segregated table during the ceremony.
After being criticized by some members of the African American community for playing roles that were deemed by many as racial stereotypes, McDaniel famously stated, “Why should I complain about making $700 a week playing a maid? If I didn’t, I’d be making $7 a week being one.” What do you think of McDaniel’s stance? What does this say about the nature of Hollywood productions in the 1930s and 1940s?
Can you think of contemporary film or television characters that exhibit many of the same characteristics as the Mammy character? What are the implications of this, more than 70 years later?
The character of Mammy is one of the most controversial in the history of film, and has been since the initial production of Gone With the Wind.Mammy is seen by many as embodying many of the racist myths told by white slaveowners about the role and life of slaves in the pre-Civil War South. The topic lends itself particularly well to further student investigation – students could research the contemporary controversy at the time of the film’s release, as well as look into the legacy of the “Mammy character type” in television and film since then.