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American Rebel
Morris Center hosts premiere of GPB doc about Margaret Mitchell
Re-enactment still from "Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel."

Move over, Ken Burns: Georgia Public Broadcasting has made a documentary on Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With The Wind, which celebrates the 75th anniversary of its publication later this month.

Titled Margaret Mitchell:American Rebel, the documentary combines classic doc techniques with live–action reenactments and was filmed on location in Atlanta, Mitchell’s home.

The film screens June 16 at the Charles H. Morris Center. While the formal “premiere” happens a few days earlier in Atlanta, that event will actually just feature clips from the film. So technically speaking the Savannah screening is the first public premiere.

We spoke to Executive Producer Pamela Roberts last week.

Nice title: American Rebel. Double entendre with ‘Rebel,’ but you make it clear she’s an American, as opposed to just a Southern, phenomenon.

Pamela Roberts: That’s exactly how I wanted to come across and exactly what I wanted to accomplish with that title. It seemed to me a great thing to play on the word “rebel,” but she certainly wasn’t a Southern hick.

Why Margaret Mitchell? What’s so special about her?

Pamela Roberts: I became interested in Margaret Mitchell when I found out about four years ago that she had become surreptitiously involved in funding dozens of medical education facilities for African Americans. My understanding of Margaret Mitchell was just about as superficial as anyone’s up to that point. Then I realized she was doing something no one would have predicted she would do.

That was during a time of virulent racism in the deep South. The KKK had risen. And she literally risked her life to do this. I got very intrigued about why she would do it.

Then I backtracked and reaGone With The Wind for the first time and realized, wow, this is a really, really good book. As Pat Conroy said, there’s nothing boring about it — not a boring page in it.

75 years after it was published, the novel continues to have huge appeal.

Pamela Roberts: The book has been published in over 40 languages and roughly 1000 editions. New editions are sprouting up every month, sometimes in places like Sudan and Iran, where these war-torn, devastated, politically oppressed places are most in need of a character like Scarlett O’Hara, I guess.

It’s actually kind of astonishing when you think about it. A quarter of a million copies are sold around the world very year. That qualifies as an international bestseller, and it’s never stopped.

It’s strange that most people think of Mitchell as some type of avatar of old Southern tradition, but she wasn’t really like that at all, was she?

Pamela Roberts: She viewed herself as a modern woman. She was always pushing the envelope. When the Roaring ‘20s came around she was a flapper. Her mother was a major suffragist and actually played a major role in helping to pass the 19th Constitutional Amendment, and her mother was a huge factor in her development.

The way Mitchell would manifest that influence wasn’t in becoming a suffragist, but in creating a character like Scarlett who in the antebellum South ended up becoming a businesswoman.

Mitchell thought Gone With The Wind would make the South mad at her. She thought she was writing a critique of the South’s rush to war, and the fact that the South wasn’t ready to go into combat with the very industrialized North. She voiced that through Rhett Butler. But people in the South chose to see what they wanted to see. They saw it as a glorification of the antebellum South. Mitchell didn’t think it was that.

But she didn’t anticipate that race would be the big controversy coming out of the book. People can say well, she was a part of her time. And she was, she grew up in the South where segregation was literally the law of the land.

We show in the documentary a woman who was raised that way but later on is secretly helping to educate black kids. She was born in 1900 and was killed in that car accident in 1949, so the first half of the century is her personal odyssey.

What about the movie itself? How did you first envision it?

Pamela Roberts: Basically after looking at photos and almost no video to tell the story we decided we’d have to do reenactments, which hasn’t been done before at GPB.  I wanted to literally start at the beginning, so the very first scene is when she’s three years old.

I won’t give away what happens but it impacts her and actually ends up impacting her identity. Her persona was in flux throughout her life, one of the fascinating things about her.

She began to call herself Jenny, and that’s where the tomboy grows into the rebellious teenager who grows into the rebellious flapper who grows into the rebellious author.

She was beautiful, she was attractive and she was sexy. The men in her life are very significant and I wanted to show how they helped or hindered her in what she did. The first husband essentially helped her in a backhand way because he was such a terrible husband that she had to go out and get a job and became a reporter. And a damn good one, too.

Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel

Screens 6–10 p.m. June 16, at the Charles H. Morris Center, 10 East Broad St. Packages start at $50. Seating is limited.

Call (404) 685–2644.