A little under 75 years ago, David O. Selznick’s adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind delivered Scarlett O’Hara in all her Technicolor glory, imprinting forever the notion of the Southern belle: the feisty beauty with a honey-laden accent, done-up in yards of antebellum dress, on the hunt for a husband. By exploring Scarlett’s proverbial stomping grounds in and around Atlanta, Georgia, Tim Richmond and James Nutt’s documentary short Southern Belles discovers that, while the plantation no longer remains, the front porches, hospitality, grace, and etiquette persevere.
Often beneath the genteel exterior lies a strong, refined woman to be reckoned with—but presentation is still paramount. Stepping out in loungewear sans makeup or anything deemed less than respectable is a definite no-no. Equally important is their renowned, friendly hospitality. Southern ladies are exceptionally welcoming and adore entertaining. This is where the warm climate plays its part. Pleasant spring times and forgiving falls. When people are comfortable going in-and-out of doors, serving sweet tea, hosting evening garden or pool parties and the like. But on the flipside, regardless of age, many Southern women agree that one should be weary of artificiality, particularly when the mannerisms are overdone.
Today’s belles are inevitably more independent, liberated and better-educated than their predecessors. The life goal of solely seeking out an MRS degree is, slowly but surely, fading. “Long ago we were taught that we could either teach school if we wanted a career, or be a nurse or perhaps a secretary for some big shot,” notes Louly, one of the narrators from today’s short. “Things have certainly changed but the core values of the Southern belle, such as strength and graciousness, still exist.” —Lee C. Wallick