Nascar bans confederate flags as Floyd protests force rethink

Nascar says it will prohibit the confederate flag from its races, a decision by the US’s professional stock-car circuit that follows moves from several other entertainment groups to cull racially insensitive content and symbols, following the police killing of George Floyd.

The racing series, which has its roots in the Deep South and has struggled to expand its fan base to minority audiences, blocked the US Civil War-era symbol just days after African-American driver Bubba Wallace called for a ban on the flag, which has become a fixture at stock car races in the south.

“The presence of the confederate flag at Nascar events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry,” the league said on Wednesday. “Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special.”

The move follows a decision on Tuesday by WarnerMedia’s new streaming service HBO Max to temporary drop Gone with the Wind, the 1939 film about the daughter of a Georgia plantation owner that critics say romanticises slavery.

Entertainment groups have come under scrutiny amid daily Black Lives Matter protests, which have included public demands for the removal of Civil War-era symbols and memorials, which critics argue normalises a regime that succeeded from the US to maintain its system of chattel slavery.

In recent days, Virginia’s governor has attempted to remove prominent statues of confederate leaders from a main street in Richmond, the onetime capital of the confederacy, and the Pentagon has been ensnared in a debate over big army bases in the south named for confederate officers.

HBO Max called Gone with the Wind, which had earned 10 Academy Awards and became a fixture of popular culture, a “product of its time”. 

“These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible,” said an HBO Max spokesperson. HBO Max will add the movie back with historical context and a denouncement of those depictions, the spokesperson added. 

Also this week, the Paramount TV network cancelled Cops, the long-running reality show about police officers, after weeks of widespread protests against police brutality. 

Netflix and Amazon Prime changed their services to greet subscribers who opened their streaming systems with pages showcasing content made by and about black communities. Netflix featured Moonlight, When They See Us and 13th, while Amazon Prime highlighted Selma, Last Black Man in San Francisco and Just Mercy.

Nascar’s decision could prove more significant since its traditional audience comes from largely white and rural regions that have been the core of President Donald Trump’s support.

In an interview this week with CNN, Mr Wallace said a Nascar confederate flag ban was warranted so that no fans “feel uncomfortable coming to a Nascar race”.

“There should be no individual that is uncomfortable showing up to our events, to have a good time with their family, that feels some type of way about an object they have seen flying,” he said. “It starts with confederate flags, get them out.”

Activists cheered the decision as long overdue, though some conservative pundits criticised moves by entertainment groups to excise objectionable content from their libraries.

Responding to HBO Max’s decision over Gone with the Wind, Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News anchor who was later ousted from NBC after defending the use of blackface Halloween costumes, tweeted: “Are we going to pull all of the movies in which women are treated as sex objects too? Guess how many films we’ll have left?”

Additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington