As you probably know, the creators and showrunners of Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, recently announced that they’d be creating a TV show called ‘Confederate’. The premise of this show is essentially what the world would be like if the Confederacy had won the Civil War. This announcement has caused massive amounts of backlash from a wide variety of people and for good reason – this show is an awful idea.
Over and over again, films have been made about times of slavery and Benioff and Weiss cannot hope to bring anything new to an oversaturated and overused topic. There are no new angles for this show to take, meaning that, yet again, the suffering of millions is simply cashed in for a quick buck, completely disregarding the sheer scale and effect of slavery. Hundreds of years of slavery and oppression being used as a dramatic ‘What If?’ story. Which is something that can only be made worse by the showrunners both being white men who ultimately have no connection to the highly sensitive and nuanced topic that they wish to use for the sake of their show. Two white men making a show about the oppression of black people can only end badly. More likely than not, instead of focusing on the suffering inflicted by slavery, it will focus on the white people in the story and how it affects them rather than the inhumane treatment of the slaves. Past that, it will most likely try to put white characters at the centre of resisting slavery, in the same way as people wrongfully believe that white people played a significant role in the Underground Railroad. This is a minefield of issues which ultimately isn’t worth approaching for a show that will go nowhere novel.
Beyond the show feeling like a cash-in, it has other problems. One of which is that Confederate is essentially a white power fantasy brought to life, and in times where the world is so full of racial vitriol, to fuel such a fantasy would be a horrible idea. The showrunners would claim that this is by no means the purpose of the show but regardless of their intent it just serves to fuel that fantasy. This is just a further iteration of a general problem with shows set in fantasy worlds, which is that they tend to lack any sort of diversity in leading roles. Think about all your favourite shows set in alternate or fantasy universes, from Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones: they’re all incredibly white. If there are PoCs ,they tend to be unimportant side-characters or villains for our white and pure hero to defeat. This is exactly the sort of narrative that this show feeds into, with white people having the ultimate power over the people of colour on the show – ownership. The power dynamics here just feed the sort of people who see it as ‘unrealistic’ for there to be anything but white dudes as leads.
My final problem with the show is a fundamental one, which is that the concept of the show presupposes that racism is over and that the Confederacy ceased to exist after the American Civil War. In a hypothetical, post-racial world where no-one is discriminated against on the basis of something as arbitrary as the colour of their skin then maybe this show would be interesting. But we are clearly not in that world, you only need to look at the amount of Confederate flags around – particularly in the South to know that this isn’t history. Large swathes of support for the Confederacy and for the oppression of black people in general isn’t a kooky ‘what if?’ or an ideology killed by a war or by legislation. It’s the reality that I have to live with and deal with every single day of my life . And to make a show like ‘Confederate’ just shows how blind people seem to be to this reality.
In the end this seems pointless as I, an individual writing on the Internet cannot influence the corporate giant of HBO. But maybe, just maybe, if we all stand against shows as fundamentally flawed and insulting as this – people will wake up and realise that making shows like this is a mistake enabled by a blindness to the ever-present struggle minorities have to go through.