With Game of Thrones finally winding to a close, many have been curious to find out what showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would do next. The two have worked on nothing but Game of Thrones throughout the series’ run given that it’s a 12-month-a-year job for them—they write (almost) all of the scripts for each season, intimately oversee the massive production, and are spearheading the editing room. But as the final season gets ready to start filming, the two decided to announce their next project: an alternate history sci-fi series called Confederate, in which the U.S. stands today as two separate countries given that the North never definitively won the Civil War, and slavery still exists as an institution in the South.
Immediately this ruffled some features, as you can expect. Not only given the subject matter, but because Benioff and Weiss have taken flack in the past for their portrayal of women and lack of diversity in Game of Thrones (with regards to the former, the show has gotten much better). The internet was ablaze with hot takes left and right, and even well-known performers and writers were coming after Benioff and Weiss for tackling a series in which slavery still exists.
But what many glossed over was the fact that, in the official announcement, Weiss and Benioff were announced as showrunners but husband and wife duo Nichelle Tramble Spellman (The Good Wife) and Malcolm Spellman (Empire), who are black, were also announced as writers and executive producers on the series.
Now, in a lengthy chat with Vulture, Benioff, Weiss, Nichelle, and Malcolm are all speaking out about the Confederate controversy and attempting to put to rest concerns about the show being created in poor taste.
As Weiss explains, the aim of Confederate is to tell a story that is relevant to what’s happening today:
“It goes without saying slavery is the worst thing that ever happened in American history. It’s our original sin as a nation. And history doesn’t disappear. That sin is still with us in many ways. Confederate, in all of our minds, will be an alternative-history show. It’s a science-fiction show. One of the strengths of science fiction is that it can show us how this history is still with us in a way no strictly realistic drama ever could, whether it were a historical drama or a contemporary drama. It’s an ugly and a painful history, but we all think this is a reason to talk about it, not a reason to run from it. And this feels like a potentially valuable way to talk about it.”
Malcolm and Nichelle have been friends with Benioff and Weiss for 10 years now, and Malcolm explains that once the two took them out to dinner and asked them to come aboard, they felt excited about the opportunity:
“For me and Nichelle, it’s deeply personal because we are the offspring of this history. We deal with it directly and have for our entire lives. We deal with it in Hollywood, we deal with it in the real world when we’re dealing with friends and family members. And I think Nichelle and I both felt a sense of urgency in trying to find a way to support a discussion that is percolating but isn’t happening enough. As people of color and minorities in general are starting to get a voice, I think there’s a duty to force this discussion.”
Nichelle continued, saying this won’t be some nostalgic ode to the Antebellum South—“no whips, no chains,” she says:
“Immediately what the conversation turned into is how we could draw parallels between what has been described as America’s original sin to a present-day conversation. In this futuristic world, you could have this conversation in a straightforward manner without it being steeped in history: ‘What does this look like now.’ I think what was interesting to all of us was that we were going to handle this show, and handle the content of the show, without using typical antebellum imagery. There is not going to be, you know, the big Gone With the Wind mansion. This is present day, or close to present day, and how the world would have evolved if the South had been successful seceding from the Union. And what was also exciting to me was the idea that in order to build this, we would have to rebuild world history … Okay, if this had happened here, how did the rest of the world change? That was another huge bonus factor for me — the idea of rewriting some of the history of, like, the French Revolution. What happened in the entire world if that one event had ended differently?”
Indeed, Benioff reveals that in the world of Confederate, there have actually been three Civil Wars:
“So the idea, and yes, we won’t go too much into it because we haven’t even written up all the fictional history yet. But the idea that we’ve talked about for a while is that if the first Civil War happened at the same time as the Civil War in our time happened, it just seemed unlikely to us that these two countries, these two hostile countries that share a massive border, would not have fought again in the time between the 1860s and the present day. So in our mind, there was also a 20th-century civil war.
But this points out — we haven’t written any scripts yet. We don’t have an outline yet. We don’t even have character names. So, everything is brand-new and nothing’s been written. I guess that’s what was a little bit surprising about some of the outrage. It’s just a little premature. You know, we might fuck it up. But we haven’t yet.”