HBO Producing Alt-Reality Confederate series with Game of Thrones Creators

HBO just announced a new series called CONFEDERATE, from Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and W.B. Weiss. The concept is an alternate reality, or multiverse, where the South has successfully seceded from the nation, and protect the institution of slavery through to the modern era, leading to a third Civil War. I discovered this news via Twitter when I started seeing pissy posts about HBO, along with slavery jokes. I can see why people are so annoyed, and frankly, I am too...but I’m not surprised.

It’s common sense that HBO would have the GoT guys for a new show-- they’ve had a hit with a nearly 16 million viewers, and with GOT wrapping up its 8th season, of course, they’re going to ask these guys what they want to do next. Now, I don’t know these people, and I don’t know what inspired the idea for this series, and I don’t know how they plan on playing it out. More than that, I don’t know their lives, I don’t know their friends, I literally know nothing about them. Judging from this choice of new series, and looking at GoT, it’s probably the case that these men don’t have many, if any, Black folks in their lives. It shows in the work. Just like how Woody Allen rarely has any Black folks in his films, and similarly, many people were upset with Sofia Coppola’s new film because she omitted the Black characters that were in the original source material. She claimed in an interview that tackling feminism and race would have been a bit too much. That’s someone who has no, or very few, Black folks in their life. Nothing wrong with that (perhaps), that’s just the way it is sometimes.

For some white folks, “our” problems are not their concern. They don’t understand us beyond the stereotypes they learn from their family and friends- the same stereotypes that are perpetuated in the movies they make, the music they want to produce, the characters they want to portray...these are images that fit into a mold that some white folks can, or are willing, to relate to.

There have been many complaints about the lack of diversity in Hollywood, in front of and behind the camera. John Boyega recently said that he didn’t want to spend money to not see himself represented. I think there are MILLIONS of people that would agree with that sentiment, and he’s not wrong. The problem is that we are relying on a group of people who are only willing to tell our stories on their terms, if at all.

Not only have we seen a similar story before with 2004’s Confederate States of America (co-produced by Spike Lee), we've seen this same story told over and over and over again. The one thing that the stories always seems to tell is of Blacks in a position that makes them powerless and keeps them victimized and enslaved. Not only is this an old and played out trope, it is completely tone deaf and antithetical to the mood and the temperament and the reality of this country. This new HBO series represents an America that appeals to maybe about 30-40% of the population. That is the reason why I wrote the Maximilian Emancipation in the first place-- to present a new vision to our story.

Our story is never going to be told on our terms if it's left up to the people who are in Hollywood right now. They're not interested in telling our story because quite frankly they don't know our story, and what they think they know they fear no one (other white folks) will like. They only know what the white supremacy myth tells them-- it's not based in reality, but mostly on assumption and animus.  These people are only going to tell stories that are relatable to them, which in this case is an alternate history where the South won the Civil War and African slavery still exists. How about a story where slavery never happened? Is that a question these writers asked themselves? Or do they not want to think about it? Or, was it never a thought?

I grew up in a predominately white suburb in South Jersey, and a few of my friends growing up were Jewish. We were all nerds, so we read comic books, rented crazy movies from the video store, all that stuff. A common thought experiment that would be bandied about back then was “If you could go back in time, would you kill Hitler?” For me, it was two pieces of inspiration-- the docu-series “Eyes on the Prize,” and the movie “Back to the Future” that sparked a new question: “If you could go back in time, could you prevent African slavery?” It’s provocative indeed, but where does it lead? What are the consequences? Killing Hitler is one thing, chopping off America by the proverbial balls is...a bit heady. It goes places that many people may not be willing to go.

White supremacy debases others in order for whites to rise to the top. It's mostly based on ego, naivete, narcissism, and arrogance as opposed to biology, genetics or any of the nonsense used to justify so-called supremacy. The thing is, it doesn't exist. It's a myth, and it's a lie. And I’m sure that with this story the creators will claim of wanting to examine the dynamics of race relations, and the legacy and sin of slavery, blah-blah-blah...but again, it's told from the only point of view that is relatable to the creators/producers: the master and slave. That’s the dynamic they understand, and that mentality is still prevalent in America.  

Stories of our oppression and struggles are more likely to be told than stories of our dominance and victories. Let's face it when telling a story about the Jewish Holocaust, the bad guys are the German Nazis; it’s the Germans versus Jews, very cut and dry. We're not in Germany, so it's a lot easier to tell a heroes and villains story. Not so much here in America. Unless you're going with the “white savior trope,” our true stories won’t be told. “Amistad” wasn’t a story about the Africans, it was a story about the white lawyer that got them off. It’s a story that has more to do with Black folks, however, it’s told with the common trope of the poor, wretched Black, and the whites that need to save them (“The Matrix,” anyone?).

It’s not to say that things aren’t getting better-- they are. There’s a “Black Panther” movie coming out(!). However, ask some white folks and witness minds being lost. Because there's a big budget mainstream movie with a predominantly black cast, they’re calling “white genocide.” That’s the mindset-- if it’s not about them (what they consider “normal”), it’s AGAINST them. I think that might be the problem-- they might be more afraid of Anti-white than Pro-Black!

There's a lot of outrage being directed at HBO for telling this story. But let’s be real. People who are not “us,” people who don't have our experiences, people who don't share in our experience, and quite frankly people who don't want to know too much about our experience because of an unflattering history...those people are not going to tell our stories. Period. So, that means WE have to tell OUR stories. It's not going to happen any other way. When I first had the idea for “The Maximilian Emancipation,” I wanted to be a movie--  but I, first of all, it was getting to be way too long, and second of all, I really didn't think that anyone would give me money to tell this story! That's why this is such a great time to be a Black maker/creator. More than any other time in history, we have the way and the means to tell our stories in a variety of media, and at such a low cost that there is literally NO EXCUSE why more of us are not creating and distributing our own content! No one else is going to tell her stories the way WE NEED TO.  

So HBO has their Confederate alternate reality series. That's wonderful, good for them. What story do YOU have to tell?

Charles Conyers