'Gone with the Wind' early script shows its portrayal of slavery could have been very different

'Gone with the Wind' poster
'Gone with the Wind' poster Copyright MGM
Copyright MGM
By Jonny Walfisz
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A historian paid $15,000 for an early copy of the 'Gone with the Wild' shooting script. In it, he's discovered that the production very nearly went a different way with its controversial depiction of slavery.


Film buffs will already know the controversial reputation of classic film Gone with the Wind. The 1939 American epic drama has been criticised for its positive portrayal of slavery in the American South. 

Now, an early version of the script has emerged, one which shows the film could have depicted slavery in a more brutally accurate way.

When Gone with the Wind was released, it quickly became one of the most successful films of all time. By some metrics it’s the most financially successful film of all time, and it took home eight Oscars at the 1940 Academy Awards, including the first one for an African American, Hattie McDaniel. Although McDaniel was still forced to sit apart from her co-stars at the ceremony.

The historian David Vincent Kimel spent $15,000 buying a rare copy of one of the early scripts of the film. Director David O. Selznick had all the shooting scripts destroyed and the opportunity to read through a “rainbow script” - known for its multi-colour editor inserted pages - was too enticing to miss for Kimel.

Hattie McDaniel, Olivia de Havilland and Vivien Leigh in 'Gone with the Wind'MGM

"Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn"

The script also contains intriguing revelations, such as the film’s iconic line from Clark Gable “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” was originally going to be “Frankly my dear, I don’t care”. Far less arresting.

“Remarkably, much of the excised material in my Rainbow Script was a harsh portrayal of the mistreatment of the enslaved workers on Scarlett's plantation, including references to beatings, threats to throw “Mammy” out of the plantation for not working hard enough, and other depictions of physical and emotional violence,” Kimel writes in The Ankler.

“Had these scenes remained in the final film, they would have stood in startling juxtaposition to the pageantry on display at the premiere in Atlanta,” he explains.

Romantics vs Realists

Kimel also details that there are letters showing a back-and-forth between Selznick and Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP over whether the film should include the use of the N-word.

It’s also been revealed that the screenwriters for the film came in two camps, the “romantics” and the “realists” when it came to the depiction of slavery in the film.

Sidney Howard and Oliver H.P. Garrett were both in the realist camp. The Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Howard’s treatment would have been six hours long, used the N-word and depicted slavery with brutality.

The romantic camp included The Great Gatsby novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ben Hecht. Fitzgerald wanted the film to include romantic visions of the antebellum era.

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