When a Production Code Administration employee read Howard's draft in 1937, however, he flagged it. Interestingly, the PCA did not prohibit but simply regarded as ‘obviously offensive' a host of derogatory words: chink, dago, frog, greaser, hunkie, kike, spic, wop, yid, and nigger. Their use could create problems for the industry.(1)Selznick later deleted the offensive term from the script but then changed his mind when he considered the ways in which black characters might address and refer to one another. He believed the PCA could be convinced of the importance of "nigger" in the script, especially considering that they agreed to the "I don't give a damn" line when Selznick lobbied for it. Leff says Selznick ultimately changed his mind when, "following meetings with the PCA and prominent Negro architect Paul Williams, Lewton wrote to Selznick that however much the word's absence detracted from the film's dramatic or comic value, its use would be ‘extremely dangerous.'" (p. 160-161). The decision not to pursue the use of the word demonstrates both Selznick's awareness of the political tensions surrounding the production of the film and his desire to be historically accurate.
|It is, after all, the actual use of the word, "nigger," that makes the term desirable in Selznick's eyes. Despite his attention to such detail, however, Selznick often adhered to much of the "Old South" coding of American film that both enforced the mythification of black characters and created clear historical inaccuracies. Thomas Cripps writes in his essay, "Winds of Change: Gone With the Wind and Racism as a National Issue," that Selznick and Howard hoped the hiring of consultants, Wilbur Kurtz, an Atlanta architect and Susan Myrick, a reporter for the Macon Telegraph, would remedy their own limited understanding of plantation life. As Cripps explains, the Kurtz's sense of detail was extremely important to the setting of the scenes:|
His carefully worked memoranda, augmented by his reading of black historian William Still's Underground Railroad, provided details of plantation activity, equipage, and personnel that black critics could not effectively challenge. In Tara's washyard, for example, he missed nothing: the little Negro girl who swept it; the old pipe-smoking woman who presided over the boiling clothes in the iron wash pot; the black boy who stoked the fire and fetched the water. Every black resident of Tara was the subject of a sketch.(2)Kurtz may have had an eye for detail but sometimes, he missed the bigger picture. Catherine Clinton identifies one of the first historical inaccuracies in the film when she writes: "In the film's opening scenes, blacks pick cotton despite the fact that plantations never harvested cotton in spring. (We know it's spring because the drama opens with news of the April 1861 attack on Fort Sumter.) In this case, as in many others, producer David O. Selznick sacrificed accuracy to suit his larger goals."(3) If one looks closely at the scene, however, it is clear Clinton is mistaken. The workers in the field are not harvesting cotton--rather, they are plowing the fields so that cotton can be planted. Despite this misinterpretation of the scene on Catherine Clinton's part, the Hollywood coding of the scene is still in effect. When the bell rings to signal the end of the day, the assistant foreman yells, "Quitting Time." The foreman states that since he is foreman, he is supposed to yell that the day is over and he proceeds to repeat the statement. Although the scene is historically accurate in a visual sense, the in-joke about who exactly is in charge of the field is a standard Hollywood gag. The question of wheter the slaves are plowing or harvesting the field is moot when it is understood that regardless of their actions, they are conventional comic types. This scene is representative of the ways in which Selznick and Howard appeared sympathetic to the historical realities of the South while adhering to Hollywood mythology. One reading of Gone With the Wind is that the attention to detail is essential to its narrative innovations and its success but, in the end, this simply adds a new dimension to the established myths of African-Americans.