About David Vincent Kimel
Some notes from the author of The Ankler's 'Gone With the Wind' piece
Born in Israel and raised in Connecticut, I have no connection whatsoever to the South. But when I was four, my great grandmother told me that Gone With the Wind was the “greatest movie ever made.” Raised on a diet of Nickelodeon and Disney, I believed her; I’d never seriously feared that a character in a movie might die before, but I knew that this was a movie that broke the rules of children’s morality. In middle school, I rediscovered it with an elderly woman of color with whom I worked in a home for the aged; she adored it and boasted that she’d been a member of Hattie McDaniel’s sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho. In my adulthood, I read the book for the first time shortly after graduating from Harvard and after years of familiarity with the movie, and it nursed me through unrequited love. Vivien Leigh’s immortal performance later saw me through homesickness and war like a familiar lullaby from my childhood. As coach of the Yale Debate Team, I used Gone With The Wind as the subject of competitions. Above all, for years, I contributed to discussions of the film on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), exchanging views with fans from around the world, including especially passionate Queer Windies sensitive to both the movie’s consummate artistry and its profound limitations. I am still convinced that no character in American film has more psychological complexity than Scarlett O’Hara.
Over time, the film’s role as Confederate propaganda has overshadowed its aesthetic achievements, and I became increasingly embarrassed by my onetime naïve love for it, even losing one of my closest friends when she discovered my admiration. Its omissions and distortions weigh heavily on me as the uncle of a Black niece. But I’m also a historian who loves Vergil’s Aeneid for its humanity despite its propaganda for an authoritarian government, and the poetry of Catullus for its passion despite its misogyny. As a classicist, I believe that we can all love aspects of the canonical works which shape our culture while acknowledging their problematic relationships to power.
I personally discovered the full reach of Gone With the Wind’s shadow when I was a teaching fellow for a class on American Economic History at Yale. A student from Southeast Asia told me that she didn’t understand all the recent controversy about the teaching of American slavery; she had seen Gone With the Wind, she explained, and learned that life usually wasn’t so bad for the enslaved. Horrified, I immediately organized a class in which we listened to testimony from former slaves collected by the Library of Congress as a corrective to the movie’s narrative, and we discussed Gone With the Wind’s insights into the experiences of white aristocratic women in addition to its omissions with regard to the lives of the people whose freedom they robbed.
What I didn’t mention was that, despite all its sins of omission, Gone With the Wind was my favorite childhood movie. In fact, I was a certifiable “Windy,” with an almost obsessive knowledge of the film that led me to purchase the Rainbow Script in the first place, not because I loved everything about the movie’s history, but because I was fascinated by it. I have explored this complex history in a screenplay and am planning an upcoming book.
I can be reached at email@example.com.
This essay very much reflects my own complicated feelings about both the book and movie. Scarlett O'Hara was the first strong fictional woman I'd encountered. Only later did I realize that she was selfish, self-centered, and not a very nice person.