Earlier this month, HBO announced that “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would produce a new show called “Confederate,” which presents an alternate history where the South won the Civil War and slavery persists to the modern day. Cue reliable liberal outrage. But the most concerning part of this outrage was the ridiculous insistence that the South really did win the Civil War, in some fashion.
“No. One. Needs. To. See. A. Show. That. Imagines. The. South. Winning. We. Already. Live. In. The. Reality,” African-American disc-jockey Benhameen declared on Twitter, with the hashtag “#NoConfederate.”
April Reign, a former lawyer and social media starlet famous for beginning the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, launched #NoConfederate, which trended at first place nationwide on Twitter during Sunday’s episode of HBO’s hit show “Game of Thrones.” Reign herself endorsed the ridiculous message that the Confederacy somehow won the Civil War.
“For some, the Confederacy isn’t alt-history. It’s right now,” the social media starlet tweeted, with an image of the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia marked with Donald Trump’s name. This tweet received over 2.7K retweets.
— April (@ReignOfApril) July 31, 2017
Vilissa Thompson, an African-American disability rights consultant, opposed the HBO show, “because as a Southern[er], the last thing I need is for Whites to see their wet dreams about slavery played out on this show.” Yes, she still seems to think white people have “wet dreams about slavery.”
#NoConfederate – because as a Southern, the last thing I need is for Whites to see their wet dreams about slavery played out on this show.
— Vilissa Thompson (@VilissaThompson) July 31, 2017
It has been more than 150 years since the Civil War ended, but it often feels like some people are still living in the antebellum era. In parts of the United States and, as evidenced by Donald Trump’s visit to Poland recently, the world, the Confederate flag is still proudly flown. This month, Ku Klux Klansmen marched in Charlottesville, Va., to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a city park. They were not the first nor will they be the last to resist acknowledging that the Confederacy lost the Civil War.
First, it is ridiculous to use this data to suggest anyone is “still living in the antebellum era.” The battle flag of Northern Virginia (commonly referred to as “the Confederate flag”) did not exist until halfway through the Civil War. Robert E. Lee was no symbol for slavery, Confederacy, or the South until the war started.
Secondly, I have had many friends who buy into the “lost cause” view of the Confederacy — that the “war of Northern aggression” was an attack on states’ rights. None of them defends slavery, and none refuses to acknowledge that the North prevailed in the Civil War.
So what is going on with this hyperbole? These liberal social justice warriors are equating police brutality and modern racism — the few instances of black people being targeted for anonymous threats, which nearly everyone condemns — with the system of race-based slavery in the antebellum South, which the Confederacy fought to preserve.
While black people have faced threats and intimidation, and many have been disproportionately targeted by police, it is ridiculous to compare these isolated events to a system of race-based slavey where black people are denied the right to vote, hold property, and even their freedom, on the official grounds that they are less than human.
Approximately no one today would advocate a return to such a heinous system, and these suggestions that Civil War re-enactors would do so are a dangerous libel against fellow Americans.
Other parts of Gay’s New York Times article explain why the show is such a touchy issue for African-Americans. Gay wrote that “novels by black writers” often “reimagine history in speculative fiction without making slavery into an intellectual exercise rather than plainly showing it as the grossly oppressive institution it was.”
The Purdue professor’s greatest fear about HBO’s “Confederate” seems to be “the realization that this show is the brainchild of two white men who oversee a show that has few people of color to speak of and where sexual violence is often gratuitous and treated as no big deal. I shudder to imagine the enslaved black body in their creative hands.”
Bingo! Gay and other activists are worried that Benioff and Weiss, infamous for sexual violence and alleged racism in the show “Game of Thrones,” would trigger painful emotional memories of slavery that victimize black people.
This is a rational fear, albeit slightly tinged with irrational outrage. “Game of Thrones” has indeed portrayed sexual violence, although the most infamous of these scenes (in which Sansa Stark, played by Sophie Turner, is raped by Ramsay Bolton, played by Iwan Rheon) actually did not show any of the rape.
But “Thrones” has featured more explicit rape scenes involving Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). Furthermore, the death and violence in the show are legendary.
There are good reasons for this. In his books on which the show is based, George R.R. Martin has captured a great deal of the political complexity and brutality which defined the medieval period, and the show has been faithful to Martin’s rendering.
This very feature, which justifies activists’ fears that “Confederate” will be brutal, also undercuts their arguments that “Confederate” will likely be blatantly racist, however. “Game of Thrones” has received a great deal of flak for scenes showing Daenerys, a white Western queen who liberated mostly darker-skinned slaves from slavery, as a “white savior.”
— The Nerds of Color (@TheNerdsofColor) July 31, 2017
But the show has also featured the abuse of white people as slaves themselves. As it turns out, the race-based slavery of American history is a historical aberration. Every society has had slavery, but only the West (first France in the 800s, then England in the early 1800s, and then America) has eradicated the institution. White slaves are just as historical as black slaves.
Benioff and Weiss (and George R.R. Martin) presented Daenerys as a “white savior” because they believe slavery is wrong, and the only culture which outlawed slavery was in the West. A Western queen — who happens to be white — freeing slaves need not be an issue of race, and indeed both the books and the show focus on the complexities of dark-skinned slaveholders losing their dark-skinned slaves.
Furthermore, in recent seasons, Benioff and Weiss have given two darker-skinned characters, Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), a great deal of character development. “Game of Thrones” takes place in a fictional equivalent to the British Isles, which is why most characters are white. But these two characters indeed stand out.
This promises at least a decent degree of nuance that Benioff and Weiss will bring to “Confederate.” While Southerners in the antebellum era considered black people inferior, the HBO show will almost certainly dispel this horrendous racist myth. “Game of Thrones” also suggests that this show will decry the horrible institution of slavery.
Contrary to the fears of activists, “Confederate” will not be “slavery fan fiction.” Perhaps to ensure this, Benioff and Weiss will be assisted in this endeavor by two black television writers and producers, Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman.
The recent Amazon show “The Man in the High Castle” has done a magnificent job presenting an alternate history where the Japanese and the Nazis won World War II, dividing the United States between themselves. Far from being Nazi or Japanese empire “fan fiction,” the show is a gruesome look at what would have happened had these powers not been defeated.
It seems reasonable to suspect that “Confederate,” like “The Man in the High Castle,” will present a dystopian present — an unappealing alternate history where the South furthered a distinctly evil institution. Supporters of the Confederacy are likely to dislike the show, as it will almost certainly attempt to persuade them that the myth of the “lost cause” is false, and that the world would be a worse place had the North not won the Civil War.
These activists may be right to fear a gruesome and explicit show like “Game of Thrones,” but their fears about HBO’s alleged racism should be dispelled. Their ridiculous statements that today’s African-Americans suffer ills comparable to slavery should be ridiculed.
This is not to say American society has eradicated racism, but merely to point out that the Confederacy did lose the Civil War, and that whatever racism black people face today, it is not comparable to the dehumanization and oppression they faced then.