HBO's "Confederate" still a terrible idea.
But why THIS idea? If you can pitch any show at all, and your pitch is, “But what if STILL slaves???”, then I worry about your creative vision. (Ryan McGee, Pajiba)
I didn't touch on this yesterday, because the particular creators in question sent my mind off in a different direction, but I think it's absolutely appropriate that so many people responded to the announcement that Weiss and Benioff (Game of Thrones), are signed on to work with Spellman (Justified, The Good WIfe) and Spellman (Empire) to create a show that drags American slavery intact into the modern day with a combination of "But, why?" and "NO." Why is *this* the story they feel like they need to tell? Why is this a story they feel like *they* need to tell? And regardless of how strongly they feel either of those things, why should I feel like this is anything besides another instance of the pain of black and brown people in America being used for entertainment (at worst) and education (at dubious "best")?
I've been wondering today what the best case scenario for this project is. When I wrote that I could imagine it being handled well in a book, a friend joked that I should get to work writing that book. But I never would. If I were ever going to write a novel (HIGHLY unlikely), it would almost certainly be speculative fiction, but it would almost certainly not involve an alternate universe in which the Confederacy a) succeeded and b) persisted. The closest I'd ever come would be the inverse, an America AU in which the Confederacy lost both the military war AND the cultural one. No hiding behind euphemistic "heritage" and "states rights" talk. No literary tradition of bullshit romanticization of the antebellum south. No Jim Crow South. No downplaying the racism of the North. No redlining and no systematic underfunding of shitty schools in the shitty neighborhoods redlining created. No gerrymandering and no voter suppression. No prison-industrial complex. I'd imagine a world in which Americans after the Civil War actually let go of white supremacy. Not just let it go, but rooted it out.
Maybe that utopian fantasy is the key to making something like Confederate work. If you absolutely must imagine slavery into the present—
(But, really, must you? Why? And can we at least agree that every time white people get to use American slavery or the antebellum period for entertainment, we get to increase and correct another public school textbook’s treatment of slavery and its legacy in contemporary American life?)
If you absolutely must imagine slavery into the present, have that be your fantastic element and make the rest of your story mercilessly honest in representing what America actually is. Make it clear that the beacon of equality is the fantasy, and that the “alternate history” is separated from our actual history by only the thinnest of margins. Have the Confederate nation-state look, feel, and function exactly like America does. Have the cops shoot black and brown people down in the streets, but make it clear that they will always get away with it because the nation's power structures are inherently and openly white supremacist. Have black and brown folks denied equal access to education, healthcare, safety, and personhood, and make it clear that those are equivalent and intentional aspects of maintaining white power. Make the slave-owning conglomerate a for-profit prison corporation. And please—in the interest of realism—please have white people tell black and brown folks that they’re not allowed to object when their pain is used as a spectacle again and again and again. Just admit that that’s because in “America,” as in America, that pain isn’t important, or at least it will never be as important as the entertainment of white folks.
I'm probably still not going to watch, but at least I'll understand why you're telling the story.