Today HBO said it regretted the way its plans for the show Confederate, which features an alternate history in which the South seceded, was announced. From the Associated Press:
“I would file this under, ‘hindsight is 20-20,’” programming president Casey Bloys said Wednesday. HBO was misguided in expecting that “we would be able to announce an idea that is so sensitive and requires so much care and thought on the part of the producers in a press release.”
If HBO got a do-over, it would have given producers the chance to publicly detail why they wanted to do the series, an understanding that HBO executives had gained before greenlighting the series from “Game of Thrones” masterminds David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
Last week HBO announced the showrunners for HBO’s Game of Thrones, currently working on that show’s final season, would next be working on Confederate in a press release:
Confederate chronicles the events leading to the Third American Civil War. The series takes place in an alternate timeline, where the southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into 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.
Immediately, there was a backlash from people who didn’t like the idea of two white showrunners writing slavery fan fiction (For the record, two black producers are also involved in the show). From Gizmodo:
What is there to be learned from seeing black people being enslaved, brutalized, and exploited that we can not already glean from our actual historical record? What is there to be learned about being born into a system in which you are at an immediate social disadvantage that we can’t already cull from decades’-worth of statistical analyses of black peoples’ economic lives? Though black people are now free in America, in very profound and devastating ways, we are still dealing with the fallout of enslavement that manifests itself in a variety of forms systemic inequality. These aren’t the trappings of an alt-history prestige drama. They are our realities.
Similarly, a writer at the Daily Beast said the premise sounded, “a hell of a lot like the present.”
Here’s my take on this. I’m sure the writers and the suits at HBO believe they are creating a “woke” TV show that would subtly indict American culture in ways their target audience would find appealing. I have no doubt that was the goal and that everyone involved is on the same page about it. Here’s the problem: The “woke” audience for this show isn’t interested in subtlety or nuance on this issue.
Frankly, this show is going to probably go over about as well as that Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial, another effort to turn left-wing outrage into a more appealing consumer product. HBO would be better off doing a sympathetic show about members of a violent Antifa group (really I’m surprised no one has pitched this yet, give me a call HBO). That’s the kind of thing the left-wing audience wants, i.e. a dramatized justification for violence. Come to think of it, maybe that’s what Confederate was going to wind up being after a couple seasons of dithering, but it would be hard for HBO to say that in a press release.
For the moment, HBO hasn’t backed away from the project. But since this show is still more than a year away, there’s still plenty of time for protesters to vent and for producers to reconsider the wisdom of this. Until then, just pretend this is an excerpt from the first season of Confederate in which a young, attractive woman approaches the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone with an evocative symbol of freedom for all humanity: