Sep 12, 2011

Ode to a minor character: Prissy from 'Gone with the Wind'

In this new series (I hope it survives my volatile interest threshold) I highlight a minor character from a movie, someone that became memorable to me because of the actor, or the lines, or the impact in the main story, whatever.

Pic from this awesome site.
Well, people associate Gone with the wind with a lot of characters. Obviously, if we were playing the game When I say, you say, and I say Gone with the Wind, most of the answers would be: Scarlett O'Hara, Rhett Butler; maybe  Melanie, Mammy, Oh-Ashley, etc, etc.

This film has a huge list of secondary characters, really. But one of my favorites appears in few scenes and then disappears (seriously, where does she go?): Prissy. Butterfly McQueen played Prissy so, so well, that you wish you could cross the screen and maybe shake her. But then Vivien slaps her and you feel sorry for her.

Prissy has to be one of the most annoying women ever. I mean, first she lies about her qualifications, saying that she knows everything about babies. Then, when poor Melanie is suffering the worst pains known by human beings, she goes very, very, very slowly to get a doctor...and comes back without him...and SINGING! Then she panics, recognizes that knows nothing about babies and barely helps Scarlett.

But the worst thing comes when she's describing the situation to Rhett and Belle Watling: according to her, she assisted Melanie...and Scarlett helped her...a little! Not to mention the wagon travel, when she whines more than the child...

I did this one sometime ago.

She's annoying, but if we analyze her behavior, we could forgive her. A little. Prissy is a person that lives in her own world, so she can be loudly crying in the real world one minute, and in the next calmly collecting flowers, chasing rainbows and humming a tune in her mind. She believes her own fantasies and this fact has brought her problems (she mentions her mom used to hit her because of her lies). But her illusions are not crazy: in her mind she sees herself as a prepared woman, someone helpful, someone that people can rely on. Ironically, the effect is that Prissy is a person that doesn't know how to properly react to difficult situations, she's still a girl that puts her needs above everyone else's.

Butterfly had the perfect timing and a terrific sense of comedy. For example, after Scarlett reprimands her because she didn't find the doctor, she dramatically cries two secs and then starts humming again and playing with her apron. She makes her character go from reality to daydreaming in a blink of an eye, in a hilarious, believable way. Because of this awesome portrayal and the richness of the character, Prissy becomes the epitome of uselessness. Every time I think that someone is not rising to the occasion, I think of the figure of Prissy. 

I want this music box!!

I also think that Butterfly's portrayal allowed the character to go beyond any racial issue if we look at it in a global context; she allowed Prissy to become an iconic personage in film history and not stay just as another racially stereotyped character, like the ones the studios used to create. It doesn't really matter if Prissy is black, white or green, what prevails is her naive essence.

Butterfly McQueen was an awesome woman. She wanted to be a nurse, then decided for acting; she did this role when she was 29 because she wanted the money to pay the furniture; then tired of being offered just stereotyped characters, she ended her film career. She studied political science and aged graciously. It's sad her life ended tragically.

Butterfly was classy. See this clip (till the end):


1 comment:

  1. My favorite character in gone with the wind...however brief it was...



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