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There Are So Many Things Wrong With HBO’s Confederate Idea

Yesterday, HBO announced a new show they’re developing with D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, the creators and showrunners of Game of Thrones. The new project is called Confederate, and tracks an alternate historical timeline in which the Southern states seceded from the Union and  where slavery is then still legal “and has evolved into a modern institution.” According to HBO, “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.”

A whole lot of people at HBO must have thought this was a great idea.

Let’s be clear, this show will probably be super successful, and tons of people will watch it. Because it’s the Game of Thrones guys, and it’s HBO, and it will likely be visually stunning and full of Very Important Ideas. But that does not mean it should exist.

To start, this announcement comes close on the heels of the news that Underground, the John Legend-produced drama about key figures in the Underground Railroad, was cancelled at WGN and is looking for a new home. Meanwhile, Weiss and Benioff–two white men who have received loads of valid criticism for the way they’ve portrayed race (and sexual violence, which is sure to be a part of this story) over the years–are greenlit to tell their story of American slavery.

The immediate question in a lot of minds is “Isn’t this just an American-set Man in the High Castle?” The premises are nearly identical (MITHC is based around an alternate reality wherein the Axis powers won WWII), but there are some huge differences that do not work out in HBO’s favor.

Click through to read Spradley’s whole thread. He makes the point that America has not done the work to educate ourselves about the horrors of our past, and therefore are in no way equipped to reimagine them. Because “that pain is not a thing of the past. It’s very much present in each of our lives, everyday.”

“How alternate is the history if Confederate flags still fly atop state buildings across the south?” he writes. “How alternate is the history if we’re still debating whether the war was about states rights, economics, or slavery?”

There may well be writers and showrunners who could make a fascinating show based on this concept–ones that would do justice to the immense, horrific history they’re taking on, and create great entertainment while still treating the subject with the respect and honesty it deserves. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of faith that Weiss and Benioff are those people.

Likely scenario:

(image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.