HBO’s Confederate probably won’t premiere for at least two years, but it’s already created a firestorm of controversy for the network and the showrunners.
To briefly recap, on July 19th, Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff revealed they were working with Nichelle Tramble Spellman (Justified), Malcolm Spellman (Empire), and Game of Thrones EPs Carolyn Strauss and Bernadette Caulfield on a new show for HBO called Confederate. The premise of the series is that it takes place in an alternate reality where the South won the Civil War of 1861, and a new Civil War is brewing. In this alternate reality, slavery is legal and has become a modern institution. “The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone – freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”
Almost immediately there was an uproar, so Weiss, Benioff, and the Spellmans—all four of whom are the executive producers of the new series—had a longer, sit-down interview with Vulture trying to explain their goals for the series. Additionally, HBO President of Programming Casey Bloys weighed in at the Television Critics Association press tour last week, saying:
“File this under hindsight is 20-20, Our mistake — HBO’s mistake, not the producers — was the idea that we would be able to announce an idea that is so sensitive and requires such care and thought on the part of the producers in a press release was misguided on our part.
Richard [Plepler, CEO of HBO] and I had the benefit of sitting with these four producers. We heard why they wanted to do the show, what they were excited about. So we had that context. But I completely understand why somebody reading the press release wouldn’t have that.”
Unfortunately for HBO, they just seem to keep digging themselves deeper. Last night during Game of Thrones, the hashtag “#NoConfederate” started trending. Despite the explanations from HBO and the creators of the new show, the people who are currently tuned into this situation are not on board for Confederate.
Before we go any further, here are my personal thoughts on Confederate: it doesn’t seem like a great idea, but I’m withholding judgment on the show until I see it. Additionally, when you look at all the other great ideas for TV shows out there, and this is what HBO wants to pay money for, it seems deeply misguided to create an alternate history where slavery exists rather than just confronting the real issues with race we face today.
To be fair, it’s not like this concept can’t work. It will take a deft touch, and it could even be insightful. The 2004 mockumentary C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America posits a world where the South had won the war, and while the film isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is, it does provide a rebuke to everyone who flies a confederate flag and drones on about “states rights” and “heritage.” But because C.S.A. is a satire, it can get away with it. It’s also an 89-minute indie movie, so you can kind of take it or leave it as opposed to the investment HBO hopes to make with Confederate.