Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #13

“The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.”

~ Gloria Steinem ~

By Chris M. Barkley

On July 19, Variety, once the primary news sources of the entertainment industry, reported that the Home Box Office network issued a routine press release announcing a new project, an alternate history series called Confederate, created by D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, the show runners of their top-rated show, Game of Thrones.

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,” said the Variety story, written by Elizabeth Wagmeinster.

“Benioff and Weiss created Confederate and will serve as show runners, executive producers and writers, along with Nichelle Tramble Spellman (Justified, The Good Wife) and Malcolm Spellman (Empire), who will co-write the series and executive produce. Game of Thrones producers Carolyn Strauss and Bernadette Caulfield will also serve as executive producers,“ it stated. (It should be noted at this point that Nichelle and Malcolm Spellman are African Americans.)

Now, if you are a tried and true sf fan and reader, you are well familiar with the concept of “alternate history” which we will delve into in a moment. But first, let gauge the initial reactions to the announcement, which were swift, and furious.

The first rumblings of trouble came the very next day in a New York Times article by their television critic, David Itzkoff titled, “Confederate Poses Test Over Race for Game of Thrones Creators and HBO.” “To the show’s critics, its promise to depict slavery as it might be practiced in modern times is perhaps the most worrisome element of Confederate. They say that slavery, a grave and longstanding scar on the national psyche, especially for black Americans, should not be trivialized for the sake of a fantasy tv series,” wrote Itzkoff.

The story quotes Dodai Stewart, the editor in chief of Fusion, a social justice culture website, saying, “Racial history in this country is a very open, sensitive wound.” Also, “Nothing’s settled, nothing is healed. I want to believe that this will be handled sensitively. But it’s an emotional subject, and for too many people, it’s uncomfortably close to the reality they already experience.”

David Harewood, a black actor who has a starring role on the WB superhero program Supergirl tweeted, “Good Luck finding black actors for this project.”

The producers and HBO, realizing that they were facing a major blowback on social media, granted an interview on Vulture the very next day in which they defended the project and stated their intentions. “We plan to approach Confederate in a much different spirit, by necessity, than we would approach a show named Game of Thrones” said co-creator D.B. Weiss.  His partner David Benioff added, “You know, we might fuck it up. But we haven’t yet.” That last quote did not help matters very much.

On that same day, ReBecca Theodore tweeted:

On July 25, bestselling feminist author Roxanne Gay penned an NYT editorial titled, “I don’t want to watch Slavery Fan Fiction”.

Activist April Reign, creator of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in protesting the whitewashing of the Academy Award nominations of the past several years, came out with a new hashtag on Sunday, July 31: #NoConfederate, calling for HBO to cancel the series altogether. In an interview with Vox Reign stated, “One red flag was the premise of the show itself. This is supposed to be alternate history, yet we see in the news almost every day the way that the Confederate mindset is still very alive and well in present-day 2017. You’ve got somebody like Dylann Roof, who is a Confederate flag waver, a white nationalist, very calmly going into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killing nine black people. You’ve got textbooks in the state of Texas literally rewriting history so that black people and Africans and African Americans were not ‘enslaved,’ they were merely workers.”

This past Friday, author and Hugo award nominee Ta-Nehisi Coates weighed in with essay on The Atlantic’s website, “The Lost Cause Rides Again”.

And THEN, just when you thought things weren’t turbulent enough, Amazon threw another shoe into the cauldron: African-American producers Will Packer (Girls Trip and Straight Outta Compton) and Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks and Black Jesus) announced on August 1 that they were teaming up to create Black America, in which former slaves are granted the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in the post-Reconstruction South as reparations for slavery. In other words, the “anti-Confederate.” And both producers readily admit that the announcement of their project, which had been in development for over a year, was spurred by the controversy surrounding Confederate.

Now, I have to admit that all of this sturm und drang regarding these two projects did not surprise me at all. In a world where a lie can circle the earth several times while the truth is still struggling to get into its pants, this sort of reaction is very typical of any breaking news flash, political misstep or celebrity meltdown. (And fan feuds; now, more than ever.)

It has always been personally dismaying to me that when a project something like Confederate is announced, people who are so damned concerned about the feelings of a constituency, whether it be whites, minorities and sexes, gather together to condemn, decry and call for either boycotts or cancel said projects.

I am particularly perturbed that two writers that I admire, Roxanne Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates, would jump on the censorship bandwagon. And let’s not kid ourselves, when you call for creators to abandon a project for being perceived as racist in nature, before a frame of film has been shot, it’s censorship.

What also upsets me is that when social critics attack science fiction or, in this case, the alternate history branch of sf, they often don’t know nor care about its history or purpose.

According to my good friend and Hugo-nominated sf author and editor Steven H Silver, an alternate history story requires three things: a point of divergence from the history of our world prior to the time at which the author is writing, a change that would alter history as it is known, and an examination of the ramifications of that change.

While there are many sources on what may have been the first literary instances of alternate history, the first one I vividly remember reading was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, wherein the Ghost of Christmas Future show Ebenezer Scrooge the consequences of his actions if he continued his curmudgeonly ways.

Many historians of modern sf recognize Nat Schachner‘s 1933 story “Ancestral Voices” and Murray Leinster’s “Sidewise In Time”, published a year later, as the most influential templates from which most alternate history stories we read today can trace their origins. Some of the more famous literary examples include Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee (1953), Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), Harry Turtledove’s The Guns of the South (1992) and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon (2007) . Media contributions include many episodes of Star Trek, The Back to the Future series, the Terminator films, Groundhog Day, the Amazon series version of The Man in the High Castle, and Timeless.

So as an ardent fan of some of these works, the idea of the Nazis or Russians taking over America, World War Three starting right after the end of WWII or the enslavement of the human race by aliens or other humans doesn’t faze me in the least. In fact, the most disturbing thing I have seen recently is Netflix’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Which brings me to my first point, when well made, alternate history tales are meant to inform, illuminate and SCARE an audience into a different frame of mind. Or, as Robert Heinlein famously posited in the 1940’s, “if this goes on…”

Secondly, specifically to Roxanne Gay’s point, she does not want to watch “slavery fan fiction”. Well, as it turns out, neither do I. Yet one of her reasons for tuning out is that, and I quote, “My exhaustion with the idea of Confederate is multiplied by the realization that this show (referring to Game of Thrones) is the brainchild of two white men who oversee a show that has few people of color to speak of and where sexual violence is often gratuitous and treated as no big deal. I shudder to imagine the enslaved black body in their creative hands.”

Well to begin with, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff may have created the television version of Game of Thrones, but the outline of the story they are dramatizing is the sole property of one George R.R. Martin.

And Martin’s story is about power, greed, avarice, pain, faith, loyalty, perseverance and the longing for true freedom, all cloaked in a fantasy world where sometimes, doing the right thing, having a conscience or just being kind is an excellent way to a quick and sudden demise. Women have endured rape, betrayal, poisoning, torture and other various forms of violence. But men have not gotten off the hook so easily in the show as you imply; they have been decapitated, totally emasculated, has their throats slit and died other equally horrible fates. All of the characters, male and female, are serving the main substance of the story; surviving, forging on and trying to retain some small thread of humanity amid the carnage and terrible circumstances.

And when Weiss and Benioff approached Martin with the idea of turning his books into a maxi-series, he, a seasoned television producer himself, was highly skeptical it could be done with any semblance of quality or coherence. What persuaded him to relent was their impressive demonstration of their knowledge of the material and a battle plan to interpret the story for the small screen.

And what are their qualifications? I mean despite winning the Emmy Award for Best Drama Series (from their industry peers mind you) for the past two years?

David Brett Weiss has a Master of Philosophy in Irish literature from Trinity College, Dublin and attended Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. He has written one novel, Lucky Wander Boy (2003), was an executive producer of The Specials (an Oprah Winfrey Network show about five friends with intellectual disabilities who share a house) and has co-written 45 episodes of Game of Thrones with his writing partner, David Benioff.

Mr. Benioff is an alumnus The Collegiate School, Dartmouth College and also attended Trinity College in Dublin for a year, where he met his writing partner, D.B. Weiss. He has a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of California, in Irvine. He has written two novels, The 25th Hour in 2001 (which was adapted for the screen starring Edward Norton and directed by, wait for it, Spike Lee!) and City of Thieves in 2008. He drafted an early version of Troy (2004) and wrote screenplays for the films Stay (2005) and The Kite Runner (2007).

You, Ms. Gay, object to these “two white men” tackling an alternate history project you don’t approve of? Well, I have a term for that, barefaced racism. One’s race, Ms. Gay should NOT disqualify a person to write, direct or produce anything. And from the credits of these two men cited above, I would hardly call either man close to being anything like Simon Legree. I feel some empathy for your distress you expressed in your editorial, Ms. Gay, but not at the expense of artistic freedom. Yes, I miss President Obama, too and the current occupant of the White House is an abomination to any rational person’s standards. Wringing our hands about him is not the way to react. In my opinion, projects like Confederate; if it’s done correctly, illuminates what makes human beings act in such a abhorrent manner. You may choose to cover your eyes, Ms. Gay, I intend to stay “woke” and attentive.

Secondly, Ta-Nesihi Coats and April Reign’s comments attack Confederate on the corporate level, taking direct aim at the motives of HBO. In his Atlantic editorial Coates writes, “A swirl of virtual protests and op-eds have greeted this proposed premise. In response, HBO has expressed ‘great respect’ for its critics but also said it hopes that they will ‘reserve judgment until there is something to see.’

“This request sounds sensible at first pass. Should one not ‘reserve judgment’ of a thing until after it has been seen? But HBO does not actually want the public to reserve judgment so much as it wants the public to make a positive judgment. A major entertainment company does not announce a big new show in hopes of garnering dispassionate nods of acknowledgement. HBO executives themselves judged Confederate before they’d seen it—they had to, as no television script actually exists. HBO hoped to communicate that approval to its audience through the announcement.

“HBO’s motives aside, the plea to wait supposes that a problem of conception can be fixed in execution. We do not need to wait to observe that this supposition is, at best, dicey.”

Well, it’s pretty clear to me what, HBO’s motives are; money, audience and acclaim, in that order. They provide the programming, money is provided by paid subscribers, the audience watches (ad free, I might add) and the acclaim, through ratings, awards and attracting bigger audiences, is the goal. Mr. Coates says we should be skeptical and on that point we are in total agreement; more often than not Hollywood rarely gets films or tv shows about race relations right. I don’t mind the criticism or the protests. What I mind is the insistence or even the implication that NO ONE (except maybe, people of color) should attempt to do these subjects, ever.

What both Mr. Coates and Ms. Reign seem to be asserting is that black people live in oppression and fear every single day, so why should we, as people of color, tolerate it being dramatized as entertainment?

Because, I reply, we, the American people, have a tradition of freedom of expression. Goodness knows, it has not been a perfectly implemented or even a fair tradition at certain points in our history. But it’s THERE, in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Yes, it only insures that the government is mostly inhibited in the free expression of speech and the arts. But we, without exception, are free to speak about almost anything we like without fear of retribution from the government. But the double edged sword is that we are not free from the consequences of our speech.

Just as Chic-Fil-A COO Dan T. Cathy, Mark Fuhrman, Paula Dean, former sheriff Joe Arpaio and pharma-bro Martin Shkreli and other miscreants ultimately discovered, you can express an unpopular, dumb, stupid or racist sentiments but the payment for that freedom will insure the bright glare of social media scrutiny, ridicule, protests, loss of privacy and yes, boycotts of their products and services.

HBO is not in the business of backing a losing proposition or inviting scorn. When they made a production deal for Confederate, they had the two writer-producers of the most popular television show in the world pitching it to them. Weiss and Benioff were given the benefit of the doubt by HBO, not the critics, protesters and naysayers. Nor, I suspect, do they want it. They, the other writers and co-producers bear the weight of the responsibility of producing a show that should provoke and confront the deepest and most powerful emotions from us.

What I sense from both you Mr. Coates and you, Ms. Reign, is that you appear angry and afraid; angry that Hollywood is going to screw it up again, afraid that the show is going to be a rallying cry for racists, right wing neo-conservatives and crazy people and angry that the creators of Confederate do not have the interests of minorities at heart.

And I say this: I am afraid of all of those things, too. But you know what I am more afraid of? That if artists and entertainers give into these sorts of protestations, we stifle free speech and artistic freedom to the point where people will go out of their way NOT to take a chance to be innovative, daring or take risks.

I am adamant in saying that we can’t give in to or give any credibility to this sort of fear and loathing. We must confront, overcome and transcend the fears within us. And sometimes, that means going head to head against it, not merely wanting to wish it away.

Those risks, of alienating the public, taking unpopular stances or being outright controversial or just plain wrong come with the territory of creating any art. But those are risks worth taking. That is why we revere the works people who were the risk takers of their times; Mozart, Janis Joplin, James Baldwin, Alice Cooper, Robert Mapplethorpe, Judy Chicago and Misty Copeland. Without the risk of failure, there is no reward and certainly no art worth noting for prosperity.

Frankly, we are damned lucky to have these four veteran writer-producers in charge of this particular high wire act.

And finally, Confederate, and Black America for that matter, are still untold stories right at this moment. Other than the provocative premises of each project, we know less about them than what Jon Snow knew during the first season of Game of Thrones.

Since the beginning of humankind, we have always expressed the compulsive desire for parables, tales and stories, either cut from real life or made from the fears and longings of our minds. These stories come in many forms, crime, romance, biography and yes, even fantasy and science fiction.

Speaking for myself, I don’t care for poorly told stories, only well told ones. My only charge to the writers, directors and producers of these projects is this: Make me CARE. Make it MATTER. And most importantly, make me beg to ask, WHAT COMES NEXT?

78 thoughts on “Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #13

  1. Yeah, well, I’m with Coates and Reign. I think they’re gonna screw it up. And I would rather not see another screw-up of it, beamed into every living room in America, especially when we have KKK once again marching in the streets.

    And saying that isn’t censorship. That’s just throwing around a scary word to make people feel guilty about expressing their concern, fears, and unhappiness.

  2. Frankly, I did not expect to read Vox Day-style prose here, up to accusations of “reverse racism”. I’m… disappointed, to say the least. I think it’s the first time I see very angry, very white racism published on file770 as an article, not as a comment.

  3. Thanks for the link to Coates’ piece. He is one of the best living writers in the US, and knows a good deal about the Civil War.
    And thanks for nothing else. Just because the truth may piss you off, it doesn’t follow that what pisses you off is true.

  4. If it’s not a call for the government to ban something, it’s not a call for censorship. And if a lot of black people, who’ve been dealing with an upsurge of racism for a while now, are concerned that something might help fuel or legitimate the upsurge, it might be a good idea to listen.

    I doubt very much that the creators of Conferderate have any intent to harm anyone, but as we’ve all seen lately, intentions only go so far.

  5. This would seem to be a good time to start a discussion of the Paradox of Intolerance. I found a really good article that examines several aspects of Karl Popper’s writings here.

    One sentence I found most useful:

    “To Popper, intolerance is not to be deployed when the utterance of intolerant ideas might make you uncomfortable, or when those ideas seem impolite, or when they get you really mad. Intolerance – if that’s the right word for it – is only warranted when we are already facing “fists and pistols,” or, presumably, worse.”

    So, a TV show is certainly not ‘fists and pistols’, and therefore should be tolerated, right?

    I look at the rise in hate groups and hate crimes, and the fact that there is a large portion of the population that has never gotten over the fact that the Confederacy LOST the Civil War and wonder. Furthermore, the existence of full-throated lies about WHY the Civil War was fought (STATES’ RIGHTS!) when the foundational documents all state clearly that they wanted to OWN other human beings also leads me to think that this particular TV show will do nothing to provoke thoughtful examination and discussion of the Original Sin of the USA.

    Unless the showrunners are planning on showing (in their own, inimitable bloodthirsty way) that slavery is an unmitigated evil, that people who benefit from slavery are guilty of unmitigated evil, that a society that accepts the ownership of other human beings as valid is an unmitigated evil, I sincerely hope that the show is an unmitigated failure.

    Yes, sci-fi has a long tradition of alternate history stories that ask “what if?” and provoke thoughtful examination of comfortable assumptions. But modern American TV doesn’t have the sort of track record in that regard that leads me to believe that this show will be anything other than a salacious exploitation of human misery.

    In other words, slavery fanfiction.

    So I’m with Mr. Coates and Ms. Reign and the other critics on this one.

  6. I think HBO should just make a show based on Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee, set in a world where the South won, but with a twist.

    Or they could just make something based on L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall. They should leave in the part where he calls for someone named Mohammed, about to be born, to be killed on birth.

    That should make everything far less controversial…

  7. I wonder if this was a attack on Black America by a swarm of Midwestern and Southern “White Folks” because they thought the premise was idiotic and it would probably turn out awful how fast the calls of censorship would go out among the same people attacking Conferderate now.

    I expect that Conferderate will be bad if it ever gets made but that is mostly because I expect everything on TV to be bad until proven otherwise.

  8. Magewolf, no one is calling for censorship. People are saying that making this show is a really bad idea and HBO and its makers should think again about it, because we expect it to turn out to be, in practice, slavery fan fiction.

    That’s not censorship.

  9. I am so tired of how critique of books, films, or television shows, in a system where the majority of productions are created by white men, has become censorship. And I am tired of how the accusation of censorship is primarily dragged out when the criticism comes from people who are members of marginalized groups. Is anybody complaining that Rotten Tomatoes CENSORS the films that get bad numbers? I don’t recall people going after Siskel and Ebert as evil censors. I see this “criticism is censorship” all over the place–it was an ongoing argument by white writers during Racefail ’09.

    Criticizing a text, or deciding not to purchase a text (or access to a subscription network), is not censorship. I agree with Coates and Gay and others who have criticized the concept and the lead producers, and I also criticized how badly HBO handled the press release and the resulting criticism: that criticism was posted here on File 770.

    Boycotts which are consumer-driven movements are also not censorship. There is no way that HBO is going to cancel this show (they are doubling and quadrupling down), so accusations of censorship are baseless.

    If critics are told we have to wait and see the whole show to criticize it, then I say that defenders have to wait until something is actually taken off the air to talk about censorship (and then I’ll be asking if they are also willing to defend the cancelled shows featuring people of color as well).

    If I decide not to see some films or buy some books based on previews and trailers and blurbs, that decision not to spend my money on some product is not censorship. I don’t watch and don’t buy a *lot* more things than I do.

    I haven’t seen any evidence that these two white men are facing any risks at all beyond criticism on the internet. And your post like a lot of the commentary, starting with the HBO release, pays little attention to Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman: you don’t tell us about their educational background or filmography or what they are bringing to the endeavor, just write a passionate defense of the white men who have been pretty clear that the show was their idea first and they invited their friends to join them.

    I don’t believe that going to elitist universities or writing programs (which until recently excluded students of color) is proof that one is free of racist ideology (in fact, the opposite).

    I don’t think Gay is being racist by pointing out the way white men who have dominated cultural productions are unlikely to contribute anything new to the national discussion of racism that this country needs to have. There’s a large body of scholarship supporting her claims.

    I don’t accept the excuse that they are adapting Martin’s work so should not be criticized for the racism in the show: they put a lot more graphic and gratuitous rape into the adaptation than the novels have (I quit reading the novels after the fifth one because I could no longer stand the torture and rape porn in them, and quit watching the show at the same time). I think their portrayal of Khal Drogo is more racist than Martin’s (which doesn’t mean Martin’s work is NOT racist, but that there’s a spectrum, not a binary).

    I don’t believe that “well told” stories are automatically free of racism (or sexism, or homophobia), and I also doubt that a work based on one the most cliche tropes in alternate history fiction is likely to lead to anything new.

    Since I am interested in productions that are likely to say something new and unprecedented, and I have limited time to watch television, I’ll be keeping an eye out for these four television series:

    Four Book Series that are Shaping the Future of Science Fiction on Television

    I will have to subscribe to HBO again for Okorafor’s Who Fears Death but I’ll be skipping the tired and trite Confederacy.

  10. Standing ovation for robinareid – excellent rebuttal to a disappointing piece.

    At the risk of repetition: It’s not censorship to firmly proclaim you’re not interested in consuming something, or to hold scepticism over creators’ capabilities based on their clear track records elsewhere (i.e. dismal treatment of race and overuse of sexual violence in GoT). It’s not censorship for those two individuals to not be among the tiny outlier population of people who get to run shows on a popular network, just a personal disappointment for them.

    If you accept the HBO logic (or Marvel, or whatever other media organisation is letting white men run offensive and controversial stories on social issues this week), you let them set it up so there’s no way for them to lose, because you are arguing that even if the show is garbage we should all sit quietly and pay them to make it up until the point they want to finish (which they never will, as long as we’re buying from them). It follows if there’s no way for them to lose, there is no incentive to get better, because we all pay them regardless or risk being “censors” for making it clear we won’t allow the story to be told profitably. Good luck getting all the well-told stories you want out of that scenario…

  11. I don’t think this nazi alternate history thing is a good idea. I don’t have enough reassurance that it won’t depict nazis as cool fellows and the Shoah as a good idea. And i don’t trust this Dick guy, who is not even a jew, not to screw it.

    And of course i am not a censor. I will only muster whatever influence I can to make this show never to happen, it is totally a different thing.

  12. I’m not a regular commenter at this blog, so please forgive me for barging in. (Arrived here via Alvedon Carol.) Personally, I am undecided about watching HBO’s Confederate series, for a lot of the reasons people have noted. (Also, I have never watched Game of Thrones: having never read the books, and having heard descriptions of the sort of violence depicted, I just kind of decided it wasn’t for me, which means I miss a lot of internet references these days.)

    But this is what struck me:

    …According to my good friend and Hugo-nominated sf author and editor Steven H. Silver, an alternate history story requires three things: a point of divergence from the history of our world prior to the time at which the author is writing, a change that would alter history as it is known, and an examination of the ramifications of that change….

    I am drawn to alternate history novels for this reason, this point of divergence, the what if. What if the first contact in the Western Hemisphere hadn’t resulted in the deaths of so many first tribes? What if European settlers had been required to negotiate with a better organized indigenous populace?

    What if John Wilkes Boothe had missed, and Abraham Lincoln had survived? Would Jim Crow have flourished? Would Reconstruction have fulfilled its premise? Would the world have been changed just enough that there’d have been no impulse to churn out ridiculous Confederate statues in the 1900s? That it wouldn’t have taken so many years for a first black President?

    The Yid by Paul Goldberg has an interesting twist: it’s an alternate history about an alternate history that didn’t happen. In the post WWII Soviet Union, Stalin continued to unleash hell on the populace, particularly the “cosmopolitans”, who he was killing or shipping off to gulags. In Moscow, rumors reigned, and one pervasive rumor was that Stalin was ordering trains with empty transport cars to various points, with the plan of rounding up Jews for Stalin’s own final solution. The characters in the book, figuring their days were numbered anyway, set out to find the dacha where the ailing Stalin was staying, in order to kill him and stop the slaughter. (It’s a great read.) In reality, Stalin died of apparent natural causes, and though much investigation has been done, it’s likely that there was no such final solution plan.

    But what if? What does it tell us about ourselves? Ben Winter recently wrote a novel, Underground Airlines, on the premise that Lincoln was assassinated soon after taking office, and that a settlement was reached before Civil War broke out that legalized slavery in the southern states. It’s an interesting story, and not one that celebrates white supremacy in the least.

    So I see value in alternate history fiction. But…I also get that there are some topics or treatments of topics that may be too raw and painful to serialize on the television machine. Exploring what kind of people we may have become had one thing changed is, I think, an appropriate area of fiction, and can serve as a mirror that makes us confront our worst impulses. But maybe not HBO, maybe not this time. I have a lot of respect for Roxanne Gay and for Coates. Maybe they’re right on this. I’m not sure. I do know that I don’t want to assume that an alternate history story on this topic would inevitably be white supremacist fan fic.

  13. Consider the Hays Office. It was not a government agency. It was dedicated to the idea that people needed protection from bad ideas in movies. Bad ideas were generally defined as those which went against Protestant Christian morality. There was lots of popular pressure to clean up movies. Otherwise there might be boycotts.

    This was censorship. The people at the Hays Office were called censors. By any other name, it’s still the same thing.

  14. @Vivien
    Actually, I do find series version of The Man in the High Castle offensive and won’t watch it. However, Confederate sounds equally offensive and also like a spectacularly bad idea.

    I’m not censoring the creators or disputin anybody’s right to watch it. However, I reserve the right to criticize both shows and not to watch them.

  15. Ah, for sure, Vivien. Why stop there? Everyone involved in making decisions about what does and doesn’t make it into high profile media can be defined as a censor now. That’s so many people for you to be outraged over! How will you find the time?

  16. techgrrl1972:

    Unless the showrunners are planning on showing (in their own, inimitable bloodthirsty way) that slavery is an unmitigated evil, that people who benefit from slavery are guilty of unmitigated evil, that a society that accepts the ownership of other human beings as valid is an unmitigated evil, I sincerely hope that the show is an unmitigated failure.

    I seriosly hope they do. And I hope from what I believe to know of Benioff and Weiss and HBO, that they wouldn’t be making the show otherwise.

    And now the but: What I have not seen is the defense from HBO and the producers. They know what the show is about. We don’t (really). People have fears what that show could be. And the makers are not doing enough to reduce that fear. We would need a more detailed synopsis of the planed show and it would be a lot more easy to have better reactions.

    The only downsize I see of that is that HBO would loose extrem rightwingviewers for the first few episodes. If the first episode doesn’t piss them of, then it will probably piss of nearly everyone else!

    At the moment people react to somethink that could be a pretty bad idea and it would be easy for the people involved to let people know a little bit more about the show to make up for the bad press. I am worried because no one involed is doing it.

    On of the most used alternate timeline scenarios is WW2 and well that has terrible potential to suck, but some of the works are worth it. Confederate has given us enough to see that it is a extremly risky idea.

    The OP wants us to wait to see if they fuck that up. I think that alone for damage control the following questions should at last be answered:

    What the … is your reason for that premise and why do you have a slave state surviving to the present day? Are you exspecting us to see slave holders as sympatic characters? What is the plan? Is this a pro slavery show?

    If they can’t answered that yet, they shouldn’t have made their plains public yet.

  17. Mm-this idea was done a few years ago by Spike Lee (himself a distinguished black American). The film –very alt history– is called Confederate States of America (or CSA) and is out on DVD (the cover shows the 1969 moon landing but the US flag is placed by the S/Cross). It depicts a current BBC (!) documentary re the CSA now ~100 years after the Sth won the war, exiled Lincoln to ?Canada? and put a hard border there and of course re it and Mexico. Worth a watch.. best

  18. @Vivien: Fallacy of false equivalency

    You can make this comparison only if you ignore everything beyond the structural elements of the texts. And the false equivalency popped up all over the place in response to the first criticisms: so there are takedowns of it all over the place as well.

    One of my favorites (link to twitter thread, text of twitter thread reproduced below without all the twitter stuff):

    Jermaine Spradley:

    Guys before you start, don’t compare The Man in The High Castle to Confederate. It’s not even close to the same thing for a bunch of reasons
    America has never truly reckoned with itself post-slavery. We haven’t done the work of accepting how who we were informs who we are…

    Our country has never accepted the fact that it normalized genocide and human trafficking, and did so for centuries.

    Our country has made no real effort to compensate descendant families for their ancestors’ centuries of free labor…

    Most importantly, the impact of slavery is still felt by both blacks and whites to this day.

    You look for the root cause of most of the issues plaguing black communities and you can make a direct correlation to slavery… TODAY. NOW.

    Germany, on the other hand, went through a whole entire process of trying to reckon with the horrors of the Nazi’s reign.

    Trials were held, people went to prison, people are still going to prison. Earnest attempts at reparations to families have been made.

    There’s is nothing anyone can do reverse the horror and tragedy of it all, but they’ve at least tried to do what they can’t. We have not.

    So, when you create a television series that hinges itself on black pain, and trauma, you’re damn right we gonna lose our shit…

    We go ham over shit like this because that pain is not a thing of the past. It’s very much present in each of our lives, everyday.

    Ain’t none of us tryna sign up to watch 6-7 seasons of people who look, dress, talk, act like us, who basically are us, being dehumanized.

    COUNT ME ALL THE WAY OUT.

    And don’t insult my intelligence by comparing it to some other Alt-History themed show.

    How alternate is the history if Confederate flags still fly atop state buildings across the south?

    How alternate is the history if we’re still debating whether the war was about states rights, economics, or slavery?

    How alternate is the history when they’re replacing “slave trade” with “transatlantic trade” or “triangular trade” in elementary textbooks?

    How alternate is the history when our presidents right hand man is an admitted white nationalist?

    To make a clear to current events: there aren’t any statues celebrating Hitler all over Germany in 2017.

    There are a shitload of statues celebrating the Confederacy all over the United States (and not just in southern states) in 2017–most of them put up well after the Civil War ended as part of the white backlash against civil rights:

    http://www.businessinsider.com/how-many-confederate-monuments-in-the-us-charlottesville-2017-8

  19. @Cora

    I have only respect for your opinion about the High Castle series. I don’t have any myself, I never watched it.

    I am still struggling to see how anyone can have a meaningful opinion about Confederate, right now, but you are entitled to it.

    As your keeping your right to criticize things and not to watch, i can only wish everybody was on such a moderate line.

    @Arifel

    Exactly. You are a citizen of a démocratic country, a consumer of a capitalistic economy, in a world where information had never circulated so quickly. That makes you a rather powerful person, especially If you start cooperating with your peers. Please use it wisely. Although if you don’t it is probably not enough to outrage me, don’t worry.

  20. @Milt Stevens: Verging on another false equivalency since none of the separate critics who are posting on the internet have been hired by the movie industry to help them become more (WARNING SARCASM AHEAD) inclusive, diverse, and less racist, sexist, and homophobic!).

    Fact: the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) office (known after the name of its first president, Hays) was set up by the movie industry to self censor after a number of pretty horrific sex and drug scandals occurred in Hollywood.

    It is censorship–of a type? Yes, self-censorship. And that’s a real thing. (People still do it–just read an article earlier today about young women self-censoring on the internet–I am sure you want to rush out and defend the white feminists and feminists of color who routinely receive death and rape threats, am I right?)

    But the MPPDA is a bit more complicated than your post conveys (including the evidence that Hays invited Catholic authorities to help write the code! and a lot more fascinating stuff discussed at the links above).

    For crying out loud people: we have a freaking HISTORICAL ACTUAL EXAMPLE OF censorship against Hollywood–and a shitload of other institutions and people, AKA McCarthy and the House Unamerican Activities Committee.

    And with the recent move by the DOJ to request information on over a million visiters to an anti-Trum site, well, I’m a bit more worried about what happens if Dreamhost is forced to turn the information over than I am about two white guys riding high on the Hollywood Popularity Train and being criticized about their racist idea for a show about the Confederacy.

  21. @Arifel: Thank you! *bows deeply*

    Now let’s you and me get together to use our awesome power on the internet to bring down ALL the racist tv shows and films and books (in all genres but let’s not forget to wipe out those Rapid Puppies along the way!), and ditto with our Feminist and Queer Agendas, as well! Yes, those white men will be cowering and whimpering in their bunkers in not time due to our POWER! We will control ALL YOUR BASES OF CULTURAL PRODUCTION!

    Oops, did I just reveal Our Sekrit Plan For World Domination on the internets!

    @Vivien: So link me to your take down of all the sexist guys who heard about the IDEA of a flipped gender casting for Ghostbusters and took to the internet to rage against the machine of feminist domination and oppression, and call for a boycott! I’d really like to read it! (waits patiently wondering how long it will take and listening to the crickets)

    Maybe I should fill the time by seeing if I can change my gravatar image to my favorite GB’s character…..(though I should be working on prep for my fall classes).

  22. Everything I was going to say has already been said (and more cogently, too) by techgrrl1972 and robinareid. I will only add that based on Game of Thrones, which I quit watching partway through Season 4 because I was so disgusted with the endless abuse of women, I have zero faith in Weiss and Benioff’s ability to tackle a topic like slavery.

  23. I’d like for people to wait until there’s one hour of it available to see, before wanting it banned/shut down/censored/whatever word you feel is most appropriate. Until then, you’re all ASSUMING what they’re going to be doing.

    It reminds me so much of some of the movies about religion in the 80s and 90s, where people wanted them banned/stopped based on what they were told by others who had not seen them either. Rumors are not something on which decisions should be made.

  24. YAY! The gravatar change went through (oh how I hate wordpress).

    Since I’m here, just let me post one of my pet peeves about GoT: i.e. that Martin and his fans, defenders, etc. all claim “historical accuracy” for the rape and torture on the show (if you want a list of scholarship by medievalists debunking that, let me know–I have it research I did on my essay on Nicola Griffith’s HILD) (p.s. it is not historically accurate).

    But even the fans noted the erm selective spasms of accuracy:

    http://www.ibtimes.com/fighting-words/medieval-misogyny-game-thrones-gratuitous-female-nudity-1287075

    Cartoonist Kate Beaton put it well in a tweet earlier this month:

    “I guess the ‘misogyny in medieval times was real so get used to it’ Game of Thrones train stops somewhere between tits and [Brazilian] waxes.”

    I do suspect the average “Game of Thrones” viewer is more likely to accept bending their concept of “historical accuracy” for things that tend to serve a certain patriarchal standard (bikini waxes) but not so much for more subversive changes. Imagine the nerdy outcry, for example, if the showrunners had cast a black man or woman in a leading role (akin to the freakouts over Idris Elba’s turn as the Norse god Heimdall in the “Thor” movie.) Imagination in fantasy, it seems, can only stretch so far.

  25. Urgh I should really be asleep but this topic is still buzzing around in my head so I’m going to get a few more thoughts off my chest.

    Over the past few years, I’ve lived in two countries where people I have worked with have subsequently been detained (with and without convictions) for writing and promoting materials which their respective governments considered damaging. The effect of these actions, by a government, is to make public debate incredibly risky, if not outright impossible, and to suppress and limit discourse on controversial topics. These cases (as well as the government-mandated cancellation of films and TV, which is less of an outright attack on individual lives but contributes just as much to suppression of ideas) are what I think of when people start talking about censorship – cases where one has to stand up to inescapable government authority, with the power to imprison or even kill you if it deems your infraction serious enough, in order to exercise free speech.

    I see no commonalities between actual government censorship and the Confederate backlash in any important respect. Assuming they uphold basic production standards, there is nobody with authority over HBO who can compel them to stop making the show over its content. Nobody is at risk of being detained over perceived political transgressions in the subject matter. I seriously doubt there is risk of anyone involved in this project harming their future job prospects if it doesn’t come through – after all, they all work in the TV industry, where shows get cancelled all the time. And while I don’t discount the harm that abuse and threats on the internet can cause towards targets (anyone threatening anyone else over this needs to stop, now), in most cases that’s not in the same ballpark as government suppression or coercion.

    Public pressure on HBO over Confederate has no power to stifle debate on either side of the topic – as is being amply displayed right here! It cannot coerce people to stop writing stories like this or ban platforms that wish to run them. I’ll allow it might influence people not to write “slavery fanfic” because they are more aware of the potential for negative public reactions, but if you want to prevent every individual opinion from influencing others’ behaviour, then I have some bad news for you about the fabric of human society. If people, or companies, change the limitations they place on themselves because of evolving norms, that might be an interesting topic for debate but it’s not censorship.

    If this show gets cancelled by HBO, the impact is that this one show won’t get made by HBO – all of the wider debate on both sides will continue, stories will continue to get told, the professionals involved will almost certainly move on to similar things without spending a single night in a prison cell over their choices. If they are committed to this story, there are a ton of options for putting it out there which wouldn’t require a platform from a high profile network – nobody is required to support them in this, but equally there is nobody with the power to prevent them.

    If you think that public pressure to boycott individual media products is equivalent to censorship, my expectation is that you’ve been able to live your life without coming into contact with actual censorship, and you should be a little bit proud of the society you live in for coming that far (even if things feel hopeless right now for other reasons). But going forward, I recommend engaging some critical thinking and perspective, holding a moment of silence for the literally millions of other story ideas that HBO has also not made shows out of. Then, if you really do think this particular show should be made, perhaps you can make some positive arguments for its existence rather than equating the other side with the censorship behaviour of authoritarian governments, because from where I’m sitting it’s very clearly not the same thing.

    (And hopefully that’s my 2017 quota done for being tired and incoherent on the internet – goodnight all…)

    (EDIT: and in the time it took to write all of this a lot of other posts happened, including Robin transforming into Kate McKinnon, which is really the best development one could hope for in a topic like this. I’m saving the actual reading for tomorrow though so apologies if I’ve been ninja’d or left behind by The Discourse :))

  26. robinareid on August 20, 2017 at 12:40 pm said:

    Since I’m here, just let me post one of my pet peeves about GoT: i.e. that Martin and his fans, defenders, etc. all claim “historical accuracy” for the rape and torture on the show … (p.s. it is not historically accurate).

    I do suspect the average “Game of Thrones” viewer is more likely to accept bending their concept of “historical accuracy” for things that tend to serve a certain patriarchal standard (bikini waxes) but not so much for more subversive changes. Imagine the nerdy outcry, for example, if the showrunners had cast a black man or woman in a leading role (akin to the freakouts over Idris Elba’s turn as the Norse god Heimdall in the “Thor” movie.) Imagination in fantasy, it seems, can only stretch so far.

    robinreid, thanks for bringing that up, because it lets me bring up more whining about “historical accuracy” 😉

    Some of you may know that Disney, never one to leave a cash cow unmilked, is bringing ‘Frozen’ to Broadway, and the review version of the play opened in Denver this week.

    Disney did blind casting for the show, and Jelani Alladin, a black man, is cast as Kristoff.

    Cue the whining. “It’s in (fake) Norway! Wah! Wah! No blacks in Norway!”

    Uh, yeah. A story about a woman who is basically an elemental goddess who can control ice and snow and create life (sentient snowman Olaf and Marshmallow anybody?) and they’re going to whine about casting a black actor as breaking suspension of disbelief? Additionally, Elsa’s father the king is also a black actor, but I haven’t heard any whinging about that one yet.

    [Side snicker — Kristoff is Anna’s love interest. The voice actor who played him in the movie is gay. Jonathan Goff. Who was also in ‘Hamilton’ as George III. But I digress.]

    Although there is one friend of mine, a US Army Infantryman who writes historically accurate (i.e. gory) Frozen fanfiction. He pointed out that the casting makes sense when you realize that the Sami peoples (and it is canon that Kristoff is Sami) are the discriminated against people of color in Scandinavia.

    tl;dr — “historical accuracy” is the last refuge of the whiners.

  27. @Robinareid

    First, If there isn’t a name for “coming out with a link of an alleged rhetorical fallacy as a substitute of proving the existence of one”, they really should be by now.

    Second, I am sorry, Jermaine Spradley is failing to make any sense to me here. In a nutshell : I can’t see why Dick/Weiss/Benioff freedom of speech should depend of what USA/Germany/Zimbabwe succeed or failed to do. And I am honestly shocked by the part about “history not being alternative” which I think is an insult to any human being who lived (or lives) the life of a slave.

    Last, about ghostbusters, you do have a problem with this false analogy. But despite my total lack of interest for any version of ghostbuster, and even if I didn’t felt like passing a virginity test today: yes, I find ludicrous the idea of asking a show to be taken down for a lousy casting choice. Does it make you feel better?

    @Arifel

    Please, please trust me to be able to make the difference between the actions of a customer lobby in the USA and a murderous dictatorship police. Even if I am adamant both can be censors.

    The irony: I am not even totally opposed to any form of censorship. I come from a country where a nazi march would be impossible, and their speech, censored.

  28. Someone writes a book, they haven’t involved anyone else in it until they send it to an editor or a self-publishing site, where – if it’s a bad idea – it dies either silently or with internet mocking. (See the woefully horrible race-flipping book that did the latter several years back.)

    Someone wants to do a TV series based off a book that has survived that process, they’re working with known content so everyone both inside and outside that process has some clue what they might get. It still could end horribly, but at least all the people involved aren’t walking in unaware.

    Someone wants to do an original TV series, all the people involved have a limited amount of prior information. If it’s something uncontroversial, the worst that can happen is an embarrassing entry on IMDB. If not – they really should provide as many details as they can. It’s not like they have to worry about spoilers. And when current events that are relative to what they’re doing flare up, that’s not the time for silence.

  29. My experience of the internet is that while the articles might be interesting, the comments are generally a cesspool of ignorance, false equivalency, shoddy thinking, and poor writing. It’s nice (for some value of nice) to sometimes see the reverse.

    I’m not sure why it’s so damned difficult to understand the concept that “slavery didn’t end” doesn’t fly well in a country where the wounds from slavery are still open and suppurating. This isn’t really very complicated. If we had, for instance, actually dealt with our race problem in this country, it would be an interesting alt history idea for a show. But we didn’t. But we haven’t.

    This is a country where a lot of white people know the name of the young woman killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville and very few know the names of the nine black people killed by a white supremacist in Charlotte.

    The blowback isn’t censorship. It’s the shouts of wounded people who are either still being wounded or are completely over seeing others being wounded.

    If it doesn’t bother you to think of entertainment centered around the idea that slavery – the ownership of people by other people, based solely on race, up to and including the one drop rule – exists, great! That is, quite literally, your privilege.

  30. Now and then I hear buzz about an american anti-war movie. Platoon. Starship Troopers. Full Metal Jacket. And I go and see a movie about this cool heroic fightingmen. And it turns out that the movies were sponsored by the military to help recruitment.

    The first thing I thought when hearing about this new TV-series was “exploitation”. I do not trust the makers to treat this well because they need the drama and the spectaculae to get viewers. And all edges will be filed down to not offend too many.

    So no. I have no faith that the result will be good. Maybe if the series had been done five years ago. Right now I think they should put it on hold until a new president. Just to get away from the feel of exploitation.

  31. Dave Lally…CSA: The Confederate States of America was made by Kevin Willmott, not Spike Lee.

  32. @ Techgrrl1972, regarding Frozen: Not disagreeing that a black man (or woman) should be as free to play Kristoff as anyone else, but the proper analogue to the Sami in North America would be the Native Americans, not the African-Americans. I also think it’s a misnomer to use the term People of Color about them, since (a) it’s an American term peculiar to the American forms of racism and race relations, not really suited to Europe and our forms of racism; (b) the use of the term People of Color for the Sami is rejected by many Sami.

  33. Karl-Johan Norén on August 20, 2017 at 2:10 pm said:
    @ Techgrrl1972, regarding Frozen: Not disagreeing that a black man (or woman) should be as free to play Kristoff as anyone else, but the proper analogue to the Sami in North America would be the Native Americans, not the African-Americans. I also think it’s a misnomer to use the term People of Color about them, since (a) it’s an American term peculiar to the American forms of racism and race relations, not really suited to Europe and our forms of racism; (b) the use of the term People of Color for the Sami is rejected by many Sami.

    Thank you. I realize I was being awkward, because the whole “Kristoff is Sami!” argument (and what that means) in the Frozen fandom has been going on since the movie came out, and I do realize that the correct analog are the indigeous peoples of North America rather than the African peoples dragged here in chains. I apologize.

    My friend the soldier was drawing an analogy, so yes, using the USA terminology probably muddies the waters so much. His point was still valid I think, terminology muddiness or not.

    The term of “population of scorned and discriminated against people with a history of suppression and exploitation” is just too long and I was trying to shortcut it.

    Kind of like in the bible story of the Good Samaritan. Unless one is a biblical scholar, one doesn’t realize what a scorned and detested people the Samaritans were. I think it was Isaac Asimov that wrote that for modern people to ‘get’ the lesson of the story in modern terms, we should use ‘black’ to describe the person who helped out when no one else would. And furthermore set the story itself in the antebellum South to get the full flavor.

  34. ” I think it was Isaac Asimov that wrote that for modern people to ‘get’ the lesson of the story in modern terms, we should use ‘black’ to describe the person who helped out when no one else would. ”

    Yes. It’s an essay called “Lost in Non-Translation”

  35. My take is: Can I imagine any way a story like this could be told that is not offensive?
    And I think it could, probably as a documentry (but even this would not be without risk and even this idea is under the caveat, that I Am a white male German, and not a black African-American). But try as I might I cant see any show that is entertaining in any way without being heavyhanded (and man in the high cas le is very heavy handed).
    I think the only reason to do a show is “So its not considrred censorship”, maybe you should reconsider.

  36. @ Techgrrl1972: No problem, and I can understand your friend using the analogue he did given the context of a black man playing Kristoff when talking to you. It’s just that things that make sense between two people in an ephemeral environment need not make sense in a more permanent environment involving many more people. It’s something which has bitten myself more than once.

    As for the Confederate series, I see no way that this won’t end with grief. I hope I’m wrong, and I have been wrong about other settings befors. I was eg extremely suspicious about the way Wonder Woman was set in the First World War, but was proven wrong about that. But Confederate likely has a far higher cliff to climb.

  37. I was only able to find some passages from Asimov’s “Lost in non-translation”, and here is how it ends:

    Or if quoting the Bible sounds too mealymouthed and if repeating the words of Jesus seems too pietistic, let’s put it another way, a practical way:
    Is the privilege of feeling hatred so luxurious a sensation that it is worth the martial and spiritual hell of a white-black civil war?
    If the answer is really “yes,” then one can only despair.

    If what is going on in American society (and in other countries where right-wing nationalism seems to be making a comeback) is any indication, the sad answer for too many people is in fact, “YES!”

    I just don’t see ‘Confederate’ by D.B. Weiss and David Benioff pouring oil on these troubled waters rather than adding gasoline to a raging fire. Because they simply CAN’T, CANNOT present the material in anything other than a watered down way that will exploit all the torture porn and rape culture but not offend the tender fee-fees of the white majority, especially those who do not see themselves in any way as racist. The commercial reality of American TV won’t let them.

    Look at the simple fact that NO ONE in power can seem to avoid playing “what about …?” and “both sides do it” games concerning the rise of Nazi and KKK rallies, where preppy boys with tiki torches feel totally empowered to march around without masks and chant “Jew won’t replace us!” and “Blood and Soil!” And claim that mobs of men armed with AR-15’s and high-powered handguns marching around in camouflage cosplay are “upholding freedom of speech” rather than trying to intimidate women and people of color and anyone else who isn’t them into submission and silence.

    And also claim that a white man who used the exact same technique that terrorists use to murder people to actually murder a woman is equivalent to anti-fa defending ministers from armed mobs. It was only a miracle that kept the body count down to one person in Charlottesville. Heather Heyer, remember her name.

    So, yeah, HBO is NOT going to stick pins in white sensibilities. And no good will come of this project.

    And saying that, over and over, is not censorship. And is not anti-free speech.

  38. This criticism isn’t occurring in a vacuum. These specific creators have been called out many times for their depictions of race and sexualized violence on their current hit show. Their own responses to this criticism fill me with dread over how they will handle this sensitive subject.

    Here’s a few of the characters that I expect them to create:

    The spoiled plantation daughter having an affair with one of her father’s “darkies.” It will seem like true forbidden love until they are caught at the half-season finale where she will cry rape. As he is brutally murdered onscreen, she begins her next conquest. (” Edgy” say critics).

    The slaveholder who “truly loves” the woman who had no choice in sharing his bed so turns fifth columnist. He is portrayed as heroically standing against the evils of slavery. (“Historically accurate” and “modern Thomas Jefferson” say fans).

    Northerners secretly working for the south.

    A heroic martial black woman, extremely loosely based on Harriet Tubman’s lesser known exploits of leading raids against plantations and freeing their slaves. Their version will be a lesbian.

  39. World Weary on August 20, 2017 at 4:10 pm said:

    This criticism isn’t occurring in a vacuum. These specific creators have been called out many times for their depictions of race and sexualized violence on their current hit show. Their own responses to this criticism fill me with dread over how they will handle this sensitive subject.

    Here’s a few of the characters that I expect them to create:

    The spoiled plantation daughter having an affair with one of her father’s “darkies.” It will seem like true forbidden love until they are caught at the half-season finale where she will cry rape. As he is brutally murdered onscreen, she begins her next conquest. (” Edgy” say critics).

    The slaveholder who “truly loves” the woman who had no choice in sharing his bed so turns fifth columnist. He is portrayed as heroically standing against the evils of slavery. (“Historically accurate” and “modern Thomas Jefferson” say fans).

    Northerners secretly working for the south.

    A heroic martial black woman, extremely loosely based on Harriet Tubman’s lesser known exploits of leading raids against plantations and freeing their slaves. Their version will be a lesbian.

    Spot on, we should play “D&B Awful Tropes Character Bingo” with this one.

    Here’s another: Middle-class southerners who are terribly guilty about the whole thing and whinge about it over dinner but, hey, THEY don’t own slaves so they aren’t part of the problem and there’s nothing they can do about it anyway.

    And the white trash overseer, cranked to 11: a whippin’ and a rapin’ his way through the slave quarters. Throw in some rape of the men he just whipped and you get a twofer. (Think of Jamie in ‘Outlander’ being whipped and raped only worse, because, overseer with no legal or moral reason for him to show any restraint.)

    Yeah, no chance of a trainwreck with this show at all.

  40. Oh hell, I hope there isn’t going to be a hefty dose of anti-Appalachian prejudice to go with everything else. They’re hurting enough for positive portrayals already.

  41. You, Ms. Gay, object to these “two white men” tackling an alternate history project you don’t approve of? Well, I have a term for that, barefaced racism.

    I stopped here. Nothing worthwhile can come after a sentence that stupid.

  42. I don’t really have a problem with “two white men” tackling a difficult issue. White men can do and have done just fine. I have a problem with those two white men tackling a difficult issue. They took a series of books which already had some dubious approaches to gender and race and then turned it up to eleven. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

    They might still pull it off! Maybe their co-writers will keep them from indulging in the worst of their excesses! But… I’m not going to hold my breath.

  43. Meredith, I’m with you re Appalachia. I get so tired of their portrayals. If anything, in this series, they should be heroes. West Virginia split off because they didn’t own slaves, after all, and fought with the Union.

  44. Techgirl,

    It never occurred to me that there could be a middle class that didn’t own slaves in a slave-based economy.

    I’ve got another one – at least one of the characters will be a schoolteacher, maybe middle school, and that’s where we’ll learn our alternate history. Maybe a quadroon passing for white?

    If the slave economy had lasted this long, a lot of the slaves are going to be pretty darn pale. So maybe one of the plot points is going to be DNA tests to make sure you’re white enough?

  45. Meredith, I’m with you re Appalachia. I get so tired of their portrayals. If anything, in this series, they should be heroes. West Virginia split off because they didn’t own slaves, after all, and fought with the Union.

    If only that were true (the not owning slaves part).

    I thought the same thing for most of my life.

    Then I looked at the lists of slave owners that were posted online a few years ago–and was appalled to see the name of my great-great-great-grandfather (and his brother). They lived in the community of Lorentz (the name is not a coincidence), in Upshur County, in what is now West Virginia. They were basic farmers, not plantation-owners, but they also owned a few slaves.

    But his son (my great-great-grandfather) fought for the Union in the Civil War.

    So it’s not all cut-and-dried. The Appalachians weren’t heroes, and they weren’t villains. They were and are simply people trying to survive. (Nowadays, many people in Lorentz work in the coal mines.)

    (And if I could find information about both sides of my mother’s family, I’m sure I’d find Confederate soldiers, since they came from Mississippi and Louisiana.)

    I’m really dismayed that HBO is planning on producing a series for what is a Klanman’s wet dream–a world where they could still own slaves.

  46. “We Just Feel Like We Don’t Belong Here Anymore” by Becca Andrews. Mother Jones. August 16, 2017.

    A brilliant article that should be read widely.

    Since Trump’s election, there has been ample coverage of white people—the rise of white nationalism, the white working class that makes up Trump’s core constituency, the 53 percent of white women who voted him into office. Much less has been written about the people of color who live and work amid the rising tide of white nationalism in rural red states. [my emphasis added]

    Turner’s mom, who cleans houses in town for a living, went to work a couple of days after that, and her employer, an older white woman, brought up the results of the recent election. The two had talked politics before—Turner’s mom is a Democrat, and her employer is a Republican. “Well, you might as well come and live with me now,” the employer said. “You gonna be mine eventually.”

    She called her daughter in tears. Turner immediately got in her car and picked her mother up to bring her home. [my emphasis added]

  47. robinareid on August 20, 2017 at 7:13 pm said:

    “We Just Feel Like We Don’t Belong Here Anymore” by Becca Andrews. Mother Jones. August 16, 2017.

    A brilliant article that should be read widely.

    “Turner’s mom, who cleans houses in town for a living, went to work a couple of days after that, and her employer, an older white woman, brought up the results of the recent election. The two had talked politics before—Turner’s mom is a Democrat, and her employer is a Republican. “Well, you might as well come and live with me now,” the employer said. “You gonna be mine eventually.”

    She called her daughter in tears. Turner immediately got in her car and picked her mother up to bring her home.”

    I’m glad you mentioned that article. I just about vomited when I read it.

    One last comment before I got to bed so I can get up early to drive into the path of the eclipse: I got $50 to bet that D&B, in the interests of historical accuracy of course, use the n-word as a comma in the show’s dialog.

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