Mammy has her moment in ‘Gone with the Wind’ prequel

Hattie McDaniel, right, was the first African-American win an Oscar for her performance as “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind.

Hattie McDaniel, right, was the first African-American win an Oscar for her performance as “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind.

WASHINGTON: Nearly eight decades after she became one of the most famous supporting figures in American popular literature, Mammy has become the heroine of her own story in a prequel to “Gone with the Wind.”

“Ruth’s Journey” by novelist and poet Donald McCaig comes 75 years after the film version of Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer-winning epic work of fiction set in the Deep South during the US Civil War.

“It’s an investigation and re-creation of the life of a major character in ‘Gone with the Wind’ whose contribution perhaps has not been fully appreciated yet,” McCaig, 74, told AFP.

In both the original book and the movie, he said, Mammy’s real name was not even clear, as was usual for an African-American slave character tasked with raising her children of the family that owned her.

The perspective triggered charges of racism leveled at Mitchell, but McCaig — author of another “Gone with the Wind” prequel — said the flaw must been understood in context.

“It was probably impossible for a white writer at the time when Mitchell wrote (in the 1930s, when segregation still prevailed in much of America) to really consider the African-American half of the equation,” he said.

In imagining Mammy’s back story, McCaig — whose book has been authorized by Mitchell’s estate — baptized her Ruth.

He also gave “Gone with the Wind” a French connection, imagining Mammy’s childhood as an orphan in the French Caribbean colony of Saint Domingue, today’s Haiti, where she was adopted by a French couple.

The author said: “I thought the absence of Mammy’s voice, Mammy’s history, Mammy’s personality in ‘Gone with the Wind’ was a great emptiness — sort of like the book told only half of the story.

 
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