If you’ve been on Twitter the last two Sundays, you probably saw the hashtag #NoConfederate trending. Confederate is the next show announced by HBO and the men behind Game of Thrones, D. B. Weiss and David Benioff. (Well, the non George RR Martin men behind the show) It aims to show an alternate universe where the South wasn’t defeated and slavery exists in modern times.
People are upset. They seem to fall into two camps. Those who object to the show’s premise and those who think that the people objecting are trying to censor television.
Why object to the show? After all, The Man in the High Castle has been on Amazon Prime for multiple seasons and the premise is what might have happened if the Nazis had won WWII. The major difference there is that while there are still Nazis and white supremacists… by and large as a society we recognize that Nazis are bad.
Despite what most think of as an end to slavery, we still have institutionalized slavery in the US. Black people are incarcerated for longer sentences for minor crimes – watch Ava Duvernay’s 13th on Netflix to help elaborate further on that. We have laws that are created to punish African Americans, and keep them on a separate tier of society. Just take a look at the voter laws that are still being implemented in primarily African American communities in order to keep them from voting, as well as the frequent gerrymandering to split up communities that are predominantly Black, and make it harder for them to find a polling place. We have a police system that is disproportionately violent towards African Americans- where when faced with nearly identical situations, a white person will survive and become a meme… and a black person will be shot.
And by and large, White America will deny all of this. So even if you’re trying to make a show to hold up a lens to America for them to see this (ala the Handmaid’s Tale), they won’t recognize that’s what’s going on.
A Lack of Diversity Matters
Then, there’s another issue that both men are white, which changes how stories that deal with race are framed. Katheryn Bigelow just released Detroit, about police violence towards African Americans during the 12th Street Riot – and it’s being criticized as torture porn. She had good intentions – it has an important message and she didn’t want to be exploitative. By judging by reactions I’ve seen from African American activists online, she failed at this. (I admit, I haven’t seen it) Why? Because her creative team was white. Without a Black POV, helping to shape the story – it’s doubtful that the story will succeed.
But What About Game of Thrones?
So perhaps I should look at their work on Game of Thrones as proof that they can handle difficult subjects, then? D. B. Weiss and David Benioff have repeatedly altered storylines to make rape seem less like rape (as in the case of Dany and Khal Drogo’s wedding night, and later with Jamie and Cersei – where that was definitely rape in the books, but downplayed on the show). Or a storyline that ADDED rape that wasn’t in the books – like Sansa and Ramsey Bolton. There is a lack of nuance or agency for the female characters.
What about the show itself, it’s diverse? Game of Thrones (spoilers for those who haven’t watched this season) just killed off the last of their Dornish characters, after completely rewriting the Dorne arcs – likely to give the white characters more screen time.
As a writer: I don’t blame the GoT people for trying to simplify threads. It’s a lot of characters to try to satisfactorily resolve arcs with, and reportedly that’s what’s slowing GRR Martin down even further
Unfortunately, this means that the only major characters of color that remain are Missandei and Grey Worm. All while Dany remains poised as the savior of people of colors, which is a really sort of icky thing. I know that the Myssa moment, where the slaves embraced her and all that was in the books. It’s uncomfortable to watch a white woman be declared a savior in that sort of a way. And to have her only critics be the former masters? Isn’t helping their cause.
The Verdict on Confederate
Even if the D. B. Weiss and David Benioff have good intentions, based on Game of Thrones, there’s no proof they can handle a high concept show like Confederate. This requires a delicate hand and skilled writing to skewer our current society.
Instead, they’re going to create a show that will be misinterpreted by white supremacists (at a time when we have white supremacists IN powerful positions in the Government) as an endorsement.
Typically, if you want a show to skewer the status quo – it should be created BY the oppressed. A good example of something that already exists? Kevin Willmott’s CSA: The Confederate States of America. A film made by a black man about the US if the South had won the Civil War.
Why the backlash isn’t censorship
So why isn’t this censorship? Censorship is when the government tells you that you can’t say or create something. The No Confederate movement is put on by private citizens telling a private company why their production is a bad idea.
It is actually no different than when people write letters to a company to say that their proposed product is a bad idea. Why not tell them before they actually spend their millions of dollars in producing the show, instead of afterwards? Why not give HBO and these guys the chance to understand what they’re missing (namely the POV of Black America) and give them a chance to respond accordingly?
It hurts nobody to start the discussion why an idea is bad. Media plays a large role in how people are perceived. So media with a wide reach that is glaringly a bad idea based on the track record of those involved? It’s better to start the discussion now, rather than when the damage is done.
And if your immediate reaction is to get angry? Then you need to ask yourself why you’re angry. Odds are it isn’t that someone is saying a television show is a bad idea. Because frankly, we’ve all looked at announcement of TV shows and said “Who thought that was a good idea?” But the level of anger I’ve seen directed towards the No Confederate people? Makes me think that everyone who is angry needs to really ask themselves why they’re angry before they start screaming.
Nobody’s telling these men they can’t create another show ever. People are just trying to steer them away from a bad idea. Where’s the harm in that?