Ok. HBO has created tremendous buzz about a show that has everybody talking, even me. It’s a show called “Confederate,” the South won, time moved on, slavery and abolitionist sentiments and battles over freedom evolved through our own day.
To put it in Entertainment Weekly’s words:
But wait, isn’t that already the reality we essentially live in micro form now?
Not knocking you HBO, seriously, it reminds me of the mockumentary “CSA: Confederate States of America” in which the most salient feature were television advertisements for enslaved Black people and “Cops” reimagined as a show about slave catching. It’s interesting that a show is being produced in the twilight of “Underground,” a show that gave Obama era passion and swag to the abolitionist movement…of course, not your show not your channel, not your problem. And yet, a whole new generation of people were tuned in to learn about slavery and the resistance against it. As an interpreter of slavery, a Black man who willingly chooses to portray and give voice to the lives of his enslaved Ancestors, this is a gift. It’s hard to get African Americans to visit and therefore become stewards of the history of their Ancestors’ plantation experience. When we dont show up, we can’t police the narratives others tell and can’t speak up for our dead. But that’s not your baggage, not your problem, right?
Your show concept is cool until we begin to think of all the other alt-history moments that would be equally provocative but seem unimaginable because of our addictive, national obsession with structurally racist ideas. What if Dr. King became president or Dr. Betty Shabazz or Coretta Scott King or Fred Hampton or Myrlie Evers? What if Haiti fomented rebellion to free enslaved African Americans? What if, and this is really crazy….if enslaved Africans were completely freed in 1776 or even 1789. Or maybe shucks, full and permanent equality and voting rights after the Civil War?
Just imagine if our 1776 hero Kwaku Walker is emancipated on July 4th. What if he got to change his surname back to Ayensu after a full apology and recompense in a land share by his former slaveholder. Imagine that some would repatriate, others would encourage the United States to abolish the slave trade. A large portion might demand representation in the government. And in the spirit of freedom of religion and assembly later guaranteed, the Orisha, Abosom and Vodu might be worshipped like Allah or Jesus in Black houses of worship. Imagine white children more fully assimilating into African culture and better health and less stress leading to Black majorities from southern Maryland to coastal Georgia where the ancient civilizations of West and Central Africa could flourish in an American context. Maybe Kwame forces Jefferson to rethink his views of racial hierarchies. Maybe he helps cure Benjamin Franklin’s Negrophobia. Imagine Kwaku’s wife Belinda passing down to her daughter’s the knowledge that no man, especially not slaveholders would ever violate her womanhood. Imagine the sanctity of their marriage, parental rights and familyhood protected by law.
Why is the inevitable scene of sexual degradation and semi-pornographic snuffery your show might well have or moments of torture a la sadism/masochism more important than a show that would show the warm promise of what America could have been, not if it had maintained a twisted romantic inspired push pull of moralities, but had in fact honored it’s cause to declare all (men) equal? What if there was no more encroachment on Native lands? Funny, we had a show on your network and dime about coexisting with vampires, but never a notion about Native peoples being able to live in peace with treaty keeping non-Native neighbors. How about if Abigail Adams was able to get her voice heard and American women were liberated long before anyone knew what a lighter or a bra was?
To another point, this show could be a means of being sharp social commentary on today’s vestiges of slavery and the racist past as prologue. If it is, I’m all for it. Indict law enforcement overreach and show it’s roots in slave catching and slave patrols and executions of enslaved people…read Africans in America…for being perceived threats. Show the history of our bizarre accepted exploitation of women of color and the baggage of identity issues we were lobbed with in slavery’s aftermath. The Black body and the agricultural, industrial and cultural products associated with it from the 18th-19th centuries were America’s most valuable holdings ever. Talk about the theft of our labor and culture, talk about our daily ongoing resistance, born of our inception in 1526.
If you’re going to do this, there must be no moral ambiguity. The institution of racial chattel slavery was one of the greatest moral evils in the history of humankind. There is no waffling here. Facts: our world has been shapes by this institution and it’s dregs and aftermath. Slavery keeps claiming victims (and to hell with anyone who dares wince at the word or suggestion.) If you’re going to do this, do it right or not at all.
We live in a country where apologists for this system still exist. Where websites written by so-called neo-Confederates talk about people like me as “feral Negroes.” This is not a time to be merely provocative but preemptive. Voting rights have been under attack ever since they were granted. The so called Alt-Right has introduced Nazi era tactics and is led by Richard Spencer, a spineless racist who once suggested the white West find a “humane” way to exact genocide against African Americans.
We don’t have room for error here. Not one inch, lest others take a mile.
HBO/Hollywood is not into traditions or possibilities. And anything that offers them a chance for a bit of light porn, well, that is their MO! All the wondrous stories to tell, and they pick garbage. What is wrong with these people, these decision makers? We call it postmodernism. Appealing to the lowest of the low to make a buck. HBO has no shame and, more importantly, no honor. I too will comment on my blog.Thanks for the alert on this. Bless you.
In reading your post, especially your alternative scenario ideas about emancipation at independence or around the end of the revolutionary war, I started to gear up for a debate about if the historical trends and forces of the time make that kind of a scenario plausible or not. I enjoy alternate history for many years, and my knee began to jerk.
Then, I thought about The Man in a High Castle, by Philip K. Dick, with an Axis victory in WWII, and an divided occupied America, and the adaptation of that to a TV series by Amazon. That one is fairly unlikely from a historical perspective, and this your post isn’t about historical plausibility in the least.
Having that second thought, I re-read your post again. In this new light, the scenarios sound pretty interesting from an alternate history perspective. How would the entire world be different, if it took that path so much sooner? What might the demographics, culture, and social norms of that world look like? How would it compare to our world today? I’m going to chew on that some, it sounds really interesting.
But, back to the HBO show and the point of your post. David Benioff and Dan Weiss don’t strike me as Alt-Right in any way. I’d expect them to be allies, if anything.
I ardently hope any writers or advisers working on that show include not just people of color, but scholars and descendants of slaves, (like you Michael). Their perspective will help ensure, I expect, that the lived experience and voice of people still impacted by the legacy of slavery, and racism are included in the story, in a way that writers made up completely of allies aren’t capable of on their own. Authenticity can only come from the authentic, not from the empathetic. Empathetic voices can cause harm and hurt in spite of good intentions.
I say this as a member of the empathetic. This has been my experience in the past.
I think it’s important that the show runners make sure its writing team includes authentic voices, from the descendants of slaves, as well as those that perpetrated slavery. The cast and crew need to be diverse. I’d expect the story and performance to come out of such a team to be rich, subtle, and authentic, and hopefully of much greater social value.
Thanks again for stimulating me to think.
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I agree, Michael, there are so many other shows I’d rather see than the one they’ve announced. I am not a GOT fan – I found the violence in it offensive so after a couple of seasons I exercised my right to watch something else.
I worry a lot about fantasy versions of this particular bit of history. I grew up in Nashville in the 60’s in a class and social setting where it was assumed all little (white) girls would love GWTW and Scarlett O’Hara. That book did a lot of damage to my head and my heart that took a long time and a lot of effort to undo, as it romanticised the “Old South.” Even now, when I express my disgust for it I get a chorus of “Oh, no, but…” from white women who otherwise seem rational and compassionate beings.
Never underestimate the power of art to shape hearts. I defend their right to make “Confederate” but I won’t be letting that stuff into my soul.
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I would watch the heck out of your concept for the show. I’ll definitely be skipping their show. I don’t understand why people find slavery to be something entertaining to watch. I hope I never do. I’d love a show that shows what we’d be like now if MLK, Malcolm X, JFK, and RFK had never been assassinated. How much richer would our world be for their voices to still be in it?
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Revisiting your blog after a couple of years! Hope you’re doing well! This is so true and I thought of your work suddenly because I was writing about a play I saw last night called “This Land Was Made” where the actors are playing Huey Newton and a bunch of Oakland folks who feel in various ways about the Black Panther Party. At the end of the play, I asked the actors how it felt to be playing these characters during a time of such a revival of the culture and ethos of the BPP, to which they said that it didn’t feel at all weird since things haven’t changed all too much since then. I was thinking about how reenactors feel about the time period they’re reenacting, and whether they WANT the past to return or they’re trying to highlight how little has changed from the past.
Anywho.. so happy to see you’re still super active on this blog and that you’re coming out with that book! Can’t wait to see it 🙂 Keep up the amazing work!
Also, I’m a PhD student now at UC Berkeley in performance studies. Going to request that the library orders your book 😉
Loved this! Great job on this post. I talk on my blog about HBO too. As a matter of fact, I just posted a review of HBO’s John Adams! Check it out! https://tvbatch.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/impulse-watch-john-adams/