HBO responded to an organized Twitter protest Sunday night against the network’s planned alternate-history slavery drama from Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and writer-producers Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman. Time
We are living in a post-fact world. Now more than ever, we need to tell real stories and understand our actual historical foundations.
Backlash and a #NoConfederate hashtag have already greeted the provocative idea from David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to create a fictional HBO series depicting America as if the Confederacy had won the Civil War. While artists should be allowed to tell any story as they please, the danger here stems from an uneducated public and a very real legacy of institutionalized racism.
The 2004 British mockumentary C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America already played out this narrative and my students’ reaction upon seeing it — wow, nothing much has changed — did little to redirect the trajectory of our racial progress. What will an entire series do differently? Moreover, it is likely that Confederate will simply feed into an already misguided and uneducated populace that needs no encouragement to misconstrue even the best and most meticulously researched documentaries and historical fictions.
We as a nation are desensitized to black pain. This is why #BlackLivesMatter is important, and why mainstream white America doesn’t comprehend why. Black lives have been viewed as disposable for almost 400 years in this country, and Confederate, while intentionally provocative, will fall on the tone-deaf ears of mainstream America. Considering that Game of Thrones is a popular show among white Americans and has weathered significant criticism for its lack of diversity, one must wonder how the creators are going to tackle a subject that is, in many ways, completely out of their wheelhouse, and frankly out of their league.
Films and shows about race have become mainstream. Confederate will undoubtedly be popular among devout Game of Thrones fans, but there is a danger in provocative authorship if the authors are not aware of the social and educational fault lines present in their audience. As it stands, most Americans have very little knowledge of African American history. Creating a fictional double narrative that will surely mirror many of our actual social problems, but without critical discourse and mediation, is highly irresponsible.
By the time American students finish high school they have some basic yet reduced ideas about black history: the slave trade happened, there was a middle passage, President Lincoln freed the slaves, and then Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks fought for civil rights. This is not an ideal educational landscape. Most Americans get their “history” from TV, and Confederate would reach a viewership of people who will not understand the nuances of its premise. There is a danger that it would promote the neo-Confederate and white supremacist idea that slavery was good for blacks — that if things really haven’t changed that much, perhaps that freedom was wasted.
POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media
As we are far from having an educated base, this show would not work as conceived. It would cause more misunderstandings than understandings, which is something that we cannot afford at this particular historical moment.
We need to find ways to bring transparency to our collective and complicated pasts. We need to tell the real stories that actually happened. We are living in a post-fact world, and we need to embrace understanding our actual historical foundations now more than ever. Fictional worlds like those depicted in Game of Thrones provide an excellent escape from reality. But Confederate could be the next chapter in alternative nonfictions, and it would steer us even further away from having honest and historically grounded conversations across racial and economic lines.
Kelley Fanto Deetz, a scholar of American slavery, is a visiting assistant professor at Randolph College and author of Bound to the Fire: How Virginia’s Enslaved Cooks Helped invent American Cuisine, to be published in November. Al Brophy holds the Paul and Charlene Jones Chair in law at the University of Alabama and is the author, most recently, of University, Court, and Slave: Proslavery Thought in Southern Colleges and Courts and the Coming of Civil War.
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