A Cambridge University college was forced to drop plans for a ‘racist’ Gone With The Wind themed ball after complaints from students.
St Edmund’s College had planned to theme its annual summer ball around the 1939 Oscar-winning film staring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable.
However, organisers have been forced to abandon their original plans, and instead re-brand the event the Journey Through The Seasons ball after concerns were raised over the racism in the film.
Change of plan: St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, has dropped plans for a Gone With The Wind themed summer ball after complaints it was racist
Diverse: Founded in 1896, St Edmund’s prides itself as being one of the most diverse colleges at the University
Although Gone With The Wind is most famous for its depiction of the enduring romance between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, it has been heavily criticised – both at the time of its release and now 75 years on – for its glamourisation of slavery, and its stereotypical depiction of black characters.
Founded in 1896, St Edmund’s prides itself as being one of the most diverse colleges at the University, with students coming from over fifty different countries.
St Edmund’s Student Mamusu Kallon, who was born in Sierra Leone, had been angered by the original choice of theme.
Contrast: Although Gone With The Wind is most famous for its depiction of the enduring romance between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, it has been heavily criticised for its depiction of slavery
Stereotype: Much criticism stems from the fact that the principle black characters such as Mammy played by Hattie McDaniel (pictured with Vivien Leigh) are reduced to playing stereotypical maids offering up cheerful servitude
‘It is a film that glamourises the romantic dreams of a slave owner and a KKK member while rendering the horrors of slavery invisible,’ the third-year human, social and political science student told The Independent.
‘The black characters fulfil every derogatory racist stereotype of the “slave” and black people continue to be subject to the modern-day versions of these stereotypes. Surely Cambridge University should not be perpetuating this?’
The decision to change the theme of the annual May Ball, which costs as much as £129 per person to attend, was made by organisers last month.
WHEN IT COMES TO RACISM, FRANKLY WE DO GIVE A DAMN
Despite its enduring popularity, Gone With The Wind has been heavily criticised for its glorification of slavery, its glossing over racial oppression, and its stereotypical depiction of black people.
Dramatist Carlton Moss described the film as a ‘nostalgic plea for sympathy for a still living cause of Southern reaction’, while historian David Reynolds said: ‘In the background, the black slaves are mostly dutiful and content, clearly incapable of an independent existence’.
Much criticism stems from the fact that the principle black characters such as Mammy played by Hattie McDaniel and Prissy Butterfly McQueen are reduced to playing stereotypical maids offering up cheerful servitude to their masters, and that while Margaret Mitchell’s novel was published in 1936 and the film made in 1939, when the civil rights movement was already underway, it glosses over issues associated with slavery such as exploitation, lynching and murder.
However, others say that the film helped bring about a greater understanding of the need for equality – pointing to the fact that McDaniel became the first African American to win an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress) for her portrayal of Mammy.
A website advertising the ball states:‘We are pleased to announce the theme for St Edmund’s May Ball 2014 is “Journey Through the Seasons”.
‘Experience all four seasons in one memorable night; our college grounds will evoke fruitful autumn gardens, long midwinter nights, the early hours of spring and the fierce passion of midsummer.
‘Expect scorching heat and wild storms throughout this explosive May Ball.’
Last year the event was themed around the 1920s set F. Scott Fitzgerald novel The Great Gatsby.
A St Edmund’s College spokesman told MailOnline: ‘The committee initially selected the theme of Gone with the Wind, but then changed it to “Journey through the Seasons” after concern was expressed by some of our students.
‘The college felt that it would have only been necessary for it to intervene formally if the matter had not been resolved satisfactorily.
‘The college supports the change of theme and is proud of its record of friendliness and cordiality.‘
A Cambridge University spokesman said that the issue was a ‘college matter’, and he was unable to comment.
Last week members of Cambridge’s Black and Minority Ethnic committee ran the ‘I, Too, Am Cambridge, campaign calling on students to speak out about racial discrimination on campus.
During the campaign committee members invited students to be photographed holding up a whiteboard proclaiming a message about their experiences as a means to raise awareness of the issues facing ethnic minority students.
The campaign also aims to promote engagement with the BME issues amongst the student body. Vice President stressed that students need not self identify as belonging to an ethnic minority in order to engage with the BME campaign.
‘I want students to feel interested in what we have to say, and even though it does not affect them directly understand that it affects their friends or people they know,’BME Vice President Millie Ngage told Varsity.
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