By now it’s well established that HBO’s Confederate is probably a Bad Idea, for reasons eloquently expressed by many influential voices from Roxane Gay, who wrote that it made her feel “exhausted,” to April Reign, who conceived Sunday’s #NoConfederate Twitter protest.
But Confederate isn’t the only alt-history project in the works that uses the Civil War as a starting point. Amazon reportedly has a similar concept deep in development, and the rival studio’s head start may be at least partly why HBO went with its announcement when it did.
While it’s impossible to judge a series before it’s even scripted, in a country where symbols of the confederacy endure, critics are justifiably concerned about a series that, however well-intentioned, sounds on paper like “slavery fan-fiction,” as Gay describes it.
At HBO’s presentation at the Television Critics Association press tour last week, programming president Casey Bloys admitted that with hindsight, he would’ve announced the show in a different way.
“Our mistake HBOs mistake, not the producers was the idea that we would be able to announce an idea that is so sensitive and requires such care and thought on the part of the producers in a press release; [that] was misguided on our part,” Bloys explained. “If I had it to do over again, what I would do to introduce the idea is what we ended up doing after the fact with the four producers which is to have them sit with journalists. And the problem is, Richard [Plepler, HBO’s CEO] and I had the benefit of sitting with these four producers. We heard why they wanted to do the show, what they were excited about, why it was important to them, so we had that context. But I completely understand that somebody reading the press release would not have that at all.”
Many pondered why HBO would rush to announce a series that won’t go into production until after the final season of Game of Thrones has been completed (which might not be until 2019) especially without any finished material to show critics but now we might have an answer.
Richard Rushfield over at The Ankler newsletter posited that HBO might’ve felt compelled to stake its claim on the concept because of the Amazon series, executive produced by Will Packer (Ride Along, Straight Outta Compton) and Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks, Black Jesus). Rushfield wrote that he was told that “the insane rush to announce a show that won’t air until 2019 at the earliest” was a direct response to the Amazon project.
A day later, Deadline had details on the mystery project, which was first announced back in February in the vaguest way possible: “The storyline is being kept under wraps but is said to revolve around an alternate universe in the vein of The Man in the High Castle.”
Now we know that Amazon’s show is called Black History, and tackles a similar concept in a completely different way envisioning a world in which newly-freed African Americans secured Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama post-Reconstruction as reparations for slavery, creating a new nation called New Colonia.
This new land “has had a tumultuous and sometimes violent relationship with its looming ‘Big Neighbor,’ both ally and foe, the United States. The past 150 years have been witness to military incursions, assassinations, regime change, coups, etc. Today, after two decades of peace with the U.S. and unprecedented growth, an ascendant New Colonia joins the ranks of major industrialized nations on the world stage as America slides into rapid decline. Inexorably tied together, the fate of two nations, indivisible, hangs in the balance.”
Did HBO get wind of the specifics of Amazon’s project and feel compelled to mark their territory, given that Benioff and Weiss have discussed Confederate for years, originally as a concept for a feature film, according to a statement?
HBO had no comment regarding its project vis a vis Amazon’s, and vice versa.
But the producers of Black America did acknowledge that it was the announcement of Confederate that prompted them to share public details of their own series. “It felt this was the appropriate time to make sure that audiences and the creative community knew that there was a project that preexisted and we are pretty far down the road with it, Packer told Deadline.
Packer declined to comment directly on HBOs Confederate in the Deadline interview, but noted, the fact that there is the contemplation of contemporary slavery makes it something that I would not be a part of producing nor consuming. Slavery is far too real and far too painful, and we still see the manifestations of it today as a country for me to ever view that as a form of entertainment.
Critics may not be the only hurdle Confederate faces the series also sounds similar in concept to a 2004 mockumentary, C.S.A.: Confederate States of America, which explores, you guessed it, an alternate reality in which the South won the Civil War and slavery endures in the present day.
When asked about the similarities between C.S.A. and Confederate, the film’s director, Kevin Willmott recently told the Kansas City Star, “All I can say is executive producer of my film, C.S.A.: Confederate States of America, Spike Lee, and I will be speaking with our big time lawyer. No further comment.
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