The Inspired Stance of Scarlett O’Hara

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Despite its many flaws (and there are certainly many) ‘Gone With the Wind’ has stood as a cinematic classic since it was released. Its rather ridiculously one-dimensional portrayals of slaves is almost laughably racist, while its histrionic heroine Scarlett O’Hara borders on nonsensical too. The latter, however, spoke to me as a young gay man when I saw it for the first time – not so much for her foolishness, but for her steely strength – something that slowly evolves and comes into focus as she deals with a world crumbling around her. The Old South was, thankfully, on its way out, and if you’ve ever had your world shift in such a seismic manner, you’ll understand too the immense difficulty inherent in such a change.

Scarlett begins with not a care in the world. Her biggest dilemma early on is selecting just the right gentleman with whom to share barbecue. That’s the kind of problem we should all have. Yet for a woman at that point in time, and in that station in life, it was an incredibly crucial decision. Choices were narrow. Options were few. And to be saddled with a dull dud and trapped in a boring marriage could be the death knell for the vivacious and spirited.

Somehow, it wasn’t even that which spoke to me. No, it was more (and less) – it was… a dress.

No, not this infamous green curtain number, fashioned in a time when fabric was apparently scarce. I was more entranced by the daring red number shown below.

In this scene, she is dropped off at a party by Rhett Butler. She thinks he is staying, but he’s not, and she’s forced to face a roomful of people who believe her to be having an affair with the beloved Melanie’s husband. She isn’t, though she may have wanted to, and the accusatory chill the guests give her is palpably awkward and believably discomforting. Most of us would have turned and run out, but Scarlett gathers her composure, pulls her shoulders back, and marches right into the lion’s den. That’s defiance. That’s style. That’s a grand fuck-you to a society that wants to trap and label and condemn to cover its own sins and indiscretions.

Have you ever walked into a room and had all eyes turning judgmentally on you? Innocent curiosity or not, it’s jarring, disturbing, and maddening. It takes a lot to muster a smile, much more to manage a composed gait.

Say what you will about the silliness of Scarlett. She did what she had to do, and she did it with haughty grandeur. Even when brought low, even when she didn’t get the man she wanted, she got through it. We should all be so brazen. We should all be so strong. The capacity to turn shame into strength is an enchantment only some of us ever master. If a few red feathers give us that extra bit of flight, bring on the plumage.

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