HBO has chosen a curious time in American history to fulfill every white supremacist’s dream, an alternative history in which the Confederate States of America won the Civil War and slavery persisted well past 1865.
But during times as incomprehensible as these, solutions may come from unexpected places.
It’s a curious time for the creators of the wildly popular “Game of Thrones” to launch “Confederate” because just last year white supremacists gleefully cheered the eventual winner of the presidential election. Hate crimes and recruitment by hate groups have been on the rise. Several Southern states recently celebrated the centennial of the “War Between the States” and were forced to grapple with how best to deal with the presence of Confederate statues and monuments and flags in a browning nation. “Confederate” also follows an eight-year period in which the country experienced seeing a black family in the White House for the first time.
The racial and cultural landmines are everywhere. While promotional material suggests “Confederate” will “include freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists and others,” as well as “the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families they control,” it’s hard to know if that mixture of storylines will be enough to overcome the understandable angst about such a show airing at a time like this. The sex scenes that helped make “Game of Thrones” famous won’t be able to rescue “Confederate” against guaranteed backlash if the show isn’t done well.
This isn’t the era in which Alex Haley’s “Roots” could break TV viewing records and receive critical acclaim for its depiction of a fictional slave family, or when the sitcom “The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer” was cancelled after protesters declared it was a too-light-hearted take on American slavery. Every police encounter involving a black American is scrutinized, an NFL quarterback is blackballed by professional football teams because of a peaceful protest, and white supporters of President Trump feel unfairly maligned.
And the country is speeding towards majority-minority status, which is creating the fear and loathing that fuels hardened feelings about immigration and talk of border walls and stopping Muslims from entering the U.S.
That’s what the creators of “Confederate” are facing, one of the most confounding racial moments in American history. It’s easy to see how it might turn into a collosal flop.
But that’s precisely why the time for such a show is now.
These are confounding times, for sure, but also clarifying. The country is on a razor’s edge as it grapples with the loss of its old identity while trying to determine just what it wants to be. All can go oh so wrong, or oh so right.
The show can also serve as a vital history lesson, one that reminds Americans that the Confederacy was built upon the belief that white people were superior and black people should forever be slaves, which is why its Constitution mandated permanent servitude. “Good” people during that period frequently looked the other way – even though they never owned another person or personally beat a slave with a horse whip – because they sympathized with that belief system or didn’t care enough about their dark-skinned fellow man and woman to fight oppression. They chose convenience and expediency, seeding the ground for the bloodiest war this country has ever experienced. They made the wrong choice.
If “Confederate” can convince more of us to make a better one, it would have served a great purpose.