The Orpheum, a theater in Memphis, Tennessee, has decided to quit its 34-year-long tradition of playing “Gone With The Wind,” a movie portraying reconstruction after the Civil War. This year’s first screening of the movie occurred on the same night as the Charlottesville rally, August 11th. The theater was immediately hit with backlash, patrons and Facebook comments both criticizing and defending the film’s depiction of African Americans and its romanticization of the Old South.
Many headlines have blown the decision far out of proportion, claiming that the theater was banning or censoring the film instead of what it actually did, which only cancelled the screening of the movie. The Charlottesville riots were indeed a factor in the cancellation. The theater’s owner Brett Batterson stated, “The Orpheum carefully reviewed all of [the comments] … As an organization whose stated mission is to ‘entertain, educate and enlighten the communities it serves,’ the Orpheum cannot show a film that is insensitive to a large segment of its local population.”
Batterson later sent out an email to the patrons of the Orpheum, stating that “it was never our intention to dictate what can and cannot be viewed by any resident of our city.” He added that with the increasing amount of threats, he was ashamed of the growing anger around the topic.
“This is irrational.” He wrote, “It is four hours of programming at the Orpheum, out of the 8,760 hours in a year.”
Batterson brings up a very strong point. With modern technology, news spreads faster and easier, but it also becomes distorted much faster. I went into writing this article thinking I was going to write about the next step in movie censorship, only to read his official statement. I was embarrassed as I was ready to write about the importance of problematic movies, not the choice of one theater in Tennessee.
The Orpheum’s Facebook page is in better spirits, but for weeks after the announcement, its status was peppered with ‘angry’ reactions and spiteful comments. It astounded me that some people weren’t even listening to what Batterson had to say.
Some people, like Jennifer R.W. (her name undisclosed for obvious reasons) said, “This is the biggest pile of BS I’ve ever read. As a long time season ticket holder this is so insulting…”
Jack S. went as far as to say, “First they come for the statues and monuments, then they come for the plays and films. Next they start burning books. Shame on you Orpheum for being a part of this. You have betrayed the arts.”
It’s like people are ignoring what the post was actually about. Twisting it into a censorship issue instead of it being one theater who decided to not play “Gone With The Wind”.
Batterson closed his email with the remark, “Most of the thousands of comments… come from those who have never met me, never set foot inside the Orpheum… and do not understand the difficult decisions involved in programming a public arts center.”
Batterson has been repeatedly barraged, so much that he had to have “guards stationed to watch (his) home and the Orpheum facilities.” While it’s a classic case of news blown out of proportion, it also raises awareness of the paranoia that white southerners face. With so many of their statues being torn down, the concept of banning a movie essential to their culture must make them feel that, more than ever, they are being villainized.