Clooney wants to buy some grace on the cheap by getting credit for McDaniel's Oscar, and we might as well give it to him. But he should expect to carry some of the baggage as well. After all, while McDaniel's wonderful performance was certainly something to be proud of, the role she won it for - an archetypal Aunt Jemima - is hardly the sort of thing they like to encourage at the Image Awards. According to an illuminating 1999 article by Leonard Leff in The Atlantic, when McDaniel received her statue, she told the assembled Academy that she hoped she'd "always be a credit to my race."
Margaret Mitchell's book "Gone With the Wind" is hardly a staple of the progressive canon. Its black characters were either gorilla-like savages or complacent servants perfectly content with being slaves. The Ku Klux Klan, meanwhile, was a "tragic necessity." Sidney Howard, charged with making a screenplay out of the book, told Mitchell that she offered "the best written darkies, I do believe, in all literature," and hoped she might help him bring them to life on the big screen.
Of course, the same Hollywood that gave McDaniel her Oscar also produced "Gone With the Wind" and countless other films whose racism was, far, far, far less open to dispute. Al Jolson's blackface, Steppin Fetchit, "Mandingo" and, of course, Woodrow Wilson's favorite movie, "Birth of a Nation," seem like just a few examples of how "in touch" Hollywood was back then. And I'm not even going to get into all of the pro-communist and anti-American movies Hollywood has churned out over the last 60 years.
But you see, I'm simply missing the point. Not too long ago, Clooney said in an interview, "Yes, I'm a liberal, and I'm sick of it being a bad word. I don't know at what time in history liberals have stood on the wrong side of social issues." In other words, just as a Hollywood diva can never be wrong in the eyes of an underling - how could she be? they can't even make eye contact - being "out of touch" means, simply, being right. And just a little better than everyone else, too.
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