HBO Max has temporarily removed "Gone With the Wind" from its streaming library in order to add historical context to the 1939 film long criticized for romanticizing slavery and the Civil War-era South.
Protests in the wake of George Floyd's death have forced entertainment companies to grapple with the appropriateness of both current and past productions.
On Tuesday, the Paramount Network dropped the long-running reality series "Cops" after 33 seasons. The BBC also removed episodes of "Little Britain," a comedy series that featured a character in blackface, from its streaming service.
In an op-ed Monday in the Los Angeles Times, the filmmaker John Ridley urged WarnerMedia to take down "Gone With the Wind," arguing that it "romanticizes the Confederacy in a way that continues to give legitimacy to the notion that the secessionist movement was something more, or better, or more noble than what it was — a bloody insurrection to maintain the 'right' to own, sell and buy human beings."
In a statement, the AT&T-owned WarnerMedia, which owns HBO Max, called "Gone With the Wind" "a product of its time" that depicts racial prejudices.
"These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible," said an HBO Max spokesman in a statement.
The company said that when "Gone With the Wind" returns to the recently launched streaming service, it will include "historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions, but will be presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed."
Based on a 1936 book by Margaret Mitchell, "Gone With the Wind" is a historical epic about a romance between Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), the daughter of a Georgia plantation owner, and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), a gambler who joins the Confederacy.
"Gone With the Wind" has long been denounced for featuring slave characters who remain loyal to their former owners after the abolition of slavery. It remains the highest-grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation. It won eight Academy Awards including best picture and best supporting actress for Hattie McDaniel, the first black actress to be nominated or win an Oscar.
The move by WarnerMedia prompted widespread debate on social media Wednesday, especially among those who didn't realize HBO Max planned to return "Gone With the Wind" to its platform.
"I'm told that no longer can you find on HBO 'Gone with the Wind' because somehow that is now offensive," said Kayleigh McEnany, White House press secretary. "Where do you draw the line? Is it to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison? (Should they) be erased from history? What about FDR and internment camps? Should he be erased from history?"
"Gone With the Wind" remains widely available for digital rental and purchase. On Wednesday, it rose toward the top of movie charts on Amazon and Apple's iTunes.
—JAKE COYLE with Aamer Madhani