Last week it was announced that HBO is partnering with the creators of Game of Thrones on a new series, very early in production, that will be about an ahistorical United States in which the Civil War ended with Southern independence. At this point, we don’t know very much about this show, entitled Confederate, but we know it’s set in a world where black people are still enslaved, where racial tension is hyperpresent.
Unsurprisingly, there was some backlash to this idea. The backlash has come for a variety of different reasons – some have pointed out that Game of Thrones has a spotty history with people of color, and also pointed to a controversy during a previous season involving how a rape was handled as it appeared in the show.
Others have stated concerns that, given the national climate, this isn’t the right time for this show. These people have observed that we still live in a climate of racism, that white supremacists may see this show as some kind of affirmation, or that people who believe that “racism doesn’t exist because we elected a black president” might see this show as further proof of how far we’ve come, rather than evidence of how much further we have left to go.
To that end, these people created a Twitter hashtag, #NoConfederate, which was trending nationally during an airing of Game of Thrones tonight. There’s certainly a lot of support out there from people who think that this show is a bad idea and should be scrapped before it hits TV.
Here’s why I think this call to action is wrong:
Look, I get it. The concerns here are totally justified. Game of Thrones absolutely has had problematic moments. In this national climate, there are absolutely some uncomfortable truths that need to be addressed while making a show like this – there’s absolutely a sociopolitical minefield here.
On the other hand, this is a minefield that Benioff and Weiss are aware of going in. On July 20th, the day of the announcement, the creators of the show responded to the backlash in an interview with Vulture’s Josef Adalian. Notably, the creators of the show don’t just include Benioff and Weiss – they also include Malcolm and Nichelle Spellman, two African American writers who are also executive producing this show. Much of the coverage of Confederate has conveniently skimmed over this important fact (something of an ironic twist). In the interview, the four creators specifically discuss their concerns and awareness of these issues. This is not something that they are going into lightly or casually. In fact, they explicitly state in the interview that this show is a platform they want to use to shine a light on the racial inequalities that exist currently.
Benioff and Weiss are powerful producers in Hollywood right now. With the success of Game of Thrones, they could probably get a green light on any project they wanted. Them using that green light on this particular project, to collaborate with minority writers, to tell a story about this particular issue, at this particular moment, strikes me as a bold choice. Shouldn’t we be applauding creators making bold choices?
Just recently, Hulu released The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the classic Margaret Atwood novel, a science fiction novel and series about a world in which women are enslaved and ritually raped, their bodies used for breeding, their babies taken away from them at birth. Simultaneously, Amazon has released two seasons of the ahistorical The Man in the High Castle, based on a Philip K. Dick novel, about a reality in which the Axis won World War II and took over the United States. Not only has there been no backlash for these shows, but at least one of them has achieved massive critical acclaim, with The Handmaid’s Tale receiving 13 Emmy nominations. If we’re going to talk about recency, we’re not so far removed from Nazis committing genocide in Europe, from the Rape of Nanking, or the practice of men treating women as commodities, trading them and using their bodies without consent. Sexual violence against women remains entirely prevalent in America to this day. Why is Confederate different from those other two shows?
It strikes me that calling for a TV show to be banned or boycotted because it will spread racism is akin to calling for a video game to be banned or boycotted because it will cause violence. Attempts toward censorship rarely, if ever, achieve their desired effect.
People are massively prejudging this show, assuming malicious intent, years before a frame of it will be seen by anyone. They’re ignoring the fact that HBO is practicing inclusion by bringing on African American writers to develop produce the show. They’re making blanket statements about the show’s potential effect on American culture that seem completely unfair given what we’ve seen with two already existent shows.
It’s possible that this show will be bad, or problematic, or both. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that lots of time and money has been put into a major project that turned out to be in bad taste. But given the pedigree of those involved, given their statements about their intent, and their awareness of the potential minefields they have to cross in creating this show, shouldn’t we at least give them a chance? If this show is bad when it premieres, then we shouldn’t hesitate to call it out. Until then, let’s not rush to judgment.
HBO addressed this trending hashtag tonight with a statement in support of the series and its producers:
“We have great respect for the dialogue and concern being expressed around Confederate. We have faith that Nichelle, Dan, David and Malcolm will approach the subject with care and sensitivity. The project is currently in its infancy so we hope that people will reserve judgment until there is something to see.”
I’m with you, HBO. I’m with you.