The creators of “Game of Thrones” are the brains behind “Confederate” — but people are giving it a wintry reception.
Image via The Tribe/YouTube.
After nine black people were shot to death in June 2015 as they prayed at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, chilling pictures of the killer, white supremacist Dylann Roof, emerged. In some, he posed with the Confederate flag, while in others, as the The New York Times put it, he was photographed visiting “Confederate heritage sites and slavery museums.”
Given Roof’s obsession with the Confederacy and its symbols, it’s not a stretch to wonder if he’d be eager to tune in to “Confederate,” a controversial new series announced Wednesday by HBO. The show is the next project by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the creators of “Game of Thrones.” This time around, winter will be coming in the form of “the events leading to the Third American Civil War,” according to a press release from the cable network. Viewers will be immersed 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.”
Which slave will be the Khaleesi in this drama remains to be seen. But as Twitter user Mia Mingus wrote, “we already know what a legalized and modern institution of slavery would look like. it's called the Prison Industrial Complex.”
Perhaps the 16.1 million viewers tuning in to the premiere episode of Season 7 of “Game of Thrones” made HBO think fans would be excited to watch “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.” But if Wednesday’s social media backlash against “Confederate” is any indication, HBO might have a ratings disaster on its hands because folks are fed up with the glorification of the secessionist state.
“What's so hard to understand that we don't want memorials to those who tortured, murdered, raped the humans they enslaved?” wrote Twitter user Dismal Florida.
Marissa Rei Sebastian, the creator of the viral hashtags #BlackOutDay and #LoveForLeslieJ (she goes by Zora Neale Hustlin' on Twitter), tweeted that the show won’t “exist in a vacuum.” Sebastian, who is African American, went on to explain that this year on the Fourth of July, she “was surrounded by people who romanticized the Confederacy.”
Indeed, HBO’s announcement of the show came one day after a mayoral candidate in Florida felt comfortable telling constituents at a public forum that they should “go back to Africa.” In recent months, nooses have been used to threaten and intimidate African-Americans, and earlier this month, the Ku Klux Klan staged a rally in Virginia. Hate groups have also blossomed over the past two years “as the radical right was energized by the candidacy of Donald Trump,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. It’s no wonder then that a recent Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans “worry a great deal” about race relations, the highest percentage in 17 years.
“Confederate” has also become a reminder of the chronic lack of opportunity for people of color in Hollywood to be cast as characters that aren’t slaves.
Then there’s the issue of who gets money to tell stories about African-Americans in the first place. Bestselling author Roxane Gay tweeted that she is tired of white men such as Benioff and Weiss being given budgets and the freedom to craft a narrative about slavery. “It is exhausting to think of how many people at @HBO said yes to letting two white men envision modern day slavery. And offensive,” tweeted Gay.
After being accused of judging the creators unfairly, Gay expanded her thoughts, noting that she was “judging them on their previous work, American history, and the American present.”
Some of the duo’s previous work on “Game of Thrones” has been widely criticized for its graphic rape scenes. And while rape was a part of life for female slaves in the U.S., people aren’t exactly eager to see it depicted on a weekly, “Game of Thrones”-style basis.
Other people offered HBO some alternatives to the current premise. Twitter user elexus jionde suggested a show where “black people got full reparations after slavery.”
Activist Samuel Sinyangwe suggested that HBO depict what would have happened if Reconstruction had been finished.
With a tweet of a police officer on horseback in Times Square, Los Angeles-based writer and director Matt Oswalt suggested that the future “Confederate” imagines is already here.
Other people, like writer and editor John DeVore, are well aware that white supremacists of the world are waiting for a moment when the South will rise again.
HBO hasn’t responded to the backlash against the series’ premise, but it’s not unreasonable to expect that the controversy could in some way influence the direction of the show. After all, the misguided attempt to cast white British actor Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson in an episode of “Urban Myths” sparked such a firestorm that the episode was canceled.
Whatever happens, “Confederate” isn’t set to even begin filming until 2018, when “Game of Thrones” wraps up its final season. Meanwhile, people nationwide keep fighting to get Confederate symbols and monuments removed from public spaces. And 10 days after Roof murdered the nine black churchgoers, activist and filmmaker Bree Newsome climbed a flag pole outside the South Carolina statehouse and took the Confederate flag down. Maybe we need her to come have a talk with the team behind “Confederate,” too.