In American culture the iconic figure of the charming and flirtatious belle is an enduring reference point for traditional white Southern womanhood. The quintessential belle aesthetic is famously immortalised in the opening scene of the 1939 screen version of Margaret Mitchell’s epic historical romance Gone With the Wind, as Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara dazzles the handsome Tarleton twins in glorious Technicolor. Yet, 80 years later, this film classic is a deeply problematic text. As historian Joshua Rothman argues, it is:
Gone With the Wind fetishises a feminine archetype of white privilege only possible within the context of a slave-owning plantation culture. Its sentimental nostalgia for the Old South is tone-deaf to what is clearly institutionalised racism, yet its dissonant tropes remain treacherously seductive to some. As the African–American architectural and cultural historian Michael Henry Adams comments:
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