As the wildly popular HBO show “Game of Thrones” started on its final season, the creators of the mega-hit have announced their next television project. David Benioff and D.B.Weiss were given a series order by HBO to make “Confederate” - a new drama they created that is set in an alternate historical timeline. In the world of the show, the South managed to secede, founding a nation where slavery remains legal until the modern day.
The topic was sure to be controversial and provoked an immediate outrage online, perhaps more than the Emmy-winning Benioff and Weiss or HBO bargained for. “Game of Thrones” has been accused of being misogynistic and overly violent and many didn’t believe its creators would be able to handle a sensitive topic well. Some wondered whether the show would represent some kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy for white supremacists or become “slavery pornography.”
On Twitter, journalist Pilot Viruet did not mince words, calling out “white showrunners telling hbo they wanna write slavery fanfic.”
give me the confidence of white showrunners telling hbo they wanna write slavery fanfic— pilot (@pilotbacon) July 19, 2017
Sociologist Crystal Fleming saw no redeeming value in such a project, finding in it nothing but crass commercialism:
Regarding #Confederate: I'm still in disbelief at the media's response to the rise of overt white nationalism. They're monetizing this shit.— Professor Fleming (@alwaystheself) July 20, 2017
Others, like the journalist and speaker April Reign, have already called for cancelling the show.
HBO has described the plot of the series in a statement as chronicling the events that lead up to the Third American Civil War. The story follows a group of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone. These include freedom fighters, slave hunters, abolitionists, and execs in charge of slave-owning conglomerates.
The network has praised the creative duo of Benioff and Weiss, stating that “their intelligent, wry and visually stunning approach to storytelling has a way of engaging an audience and taking them on an unforgettable journey.” To address the brewing controversy head on, the pair gave an extensive interview to Vulture, where they explained more about the project.
D.B Weiss pointed to how seriously they take slavery, stating that “it goes without saying slavery is the worst thing that ever happened in American history. It’s our original sin as a nation. And history doesn’t disappear. That sin is still with us in many ways.”
Their vision for Confederate is to make a science fiction, alternative-history show. The goal is to use science fiction as a vehicle to “show us how this history is still with us in a way no strictly realistic drama ever could, whether it were a historical drama or a contemporary drama.” Weiss also called the show a “ potentially valuable way to talk” about the country’s tensions.
On the subject of whether they can handle such an emotionally raw topic, Weiss explained that their approach will be very different than on Game of Thrones.
“We know that the elements in play in a show like Confederateare much more raw, much more real, and people come into them much more sensitive and more invested, than they do with a story about a place called Westeros, which none of them had ever heard of before they read the books or watched the show,” said Weiss. “We know they are different things, and they need to be dealt with in very, very different ways. And we plan, all of us I think, to approach Confederate in a much different spirit, by necessity, than we would approach a show named Game of Thrones.”
Malcolm Spellman, who is African-American, and along with his wife Nichelle Tramble Spellman will work as a writing partner and executive producer on the show, assured that the project will handle slavery sensitively.
"This is not a world in which the entire country is enslaved. Slavery is in one half of the country. And the North is the North," said Malcolm. "The imagery should be no whips and no plantations."
He was even more forceful than talking about the need for such a show in this day.
"People have got to stop pretending that slavery was something that happened and went away. The shit is affecting people in the present day," he said. "But everyone knows that with Trump coming into power, a bunch of shit that had always been there got resurfaced."
At the moment, HBO has not changed any of its plans for the show and the creators are going to start on it as soon as Game of Thrones finishes later this year. It remains to be seen whether the backlash will grow. Interestingly, Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle”, another alternative-history show where Nazis won World War 2, has not faced similar issues in public perception.