Cancel Culture and the Black Lives Movement: The Fine Line Between Social Change and Censorship

"Has cancel culture gone too far?"

By Sabrina Fani

In today’s world, there is little room for second chances. The public’s growing demand for accountability has led celebrities and public figures alike to be “canceled”, or rather, “culturally blocked from having a prominent public platform or career,”[1] for their problematic comments and actions. On one hand, the movement encourages positive social change by dissuading individuals in power from engaging in offensive behavior. On the other, however, cancel culture risks excessive censorship. After many have effectively had their voices silenced from being “canceled,” this modern trend begs the question of whether cancel culture has gone too far.[2]

As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to gain momentum, many have been, and continue to be “canceled” for their racist actions and comments. The entertainment industry has been especially affected, like many actors, executives, and reality television stars have been fired for racist behavior.[3] Additionally, racist content is being removed from various platforms. However, the industry’s promising strides towards contributing to a more inclusive and accepting culture has not been met without criticism. HBO Max notably caused controversy when it announced it would be removing “Gone With the Wind” from its library of films.[4]

“The industry is now faced with a tough decision...”

The 1939 film tells the love story of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in the midst of the American Civil War. The film has been long praised as “one of the most popular films ever made.”[5] In fact, the movie holds great historical significance, as it earned Hattie McDaniel an Oscar, making her the first ever African American to receive the award. Nevertheless, the film generates great disapproval for its portrayal of slavery. Although HBO Max noted that “Gone With the Wind” is a “product of its time,” it acknowledged that “these racist depictions [in the film] were wrong then and are wrong today.”[6] The platform ultimately announced that the movie would not return to the platform unless accompanied by a “discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions.”[7]

The platform’s move came in response to an opinion article in the Los Angeles Times that demanded that HBO Max take “Gone With the Wind” “off [its] platform for now.”