There are so many things wrong with David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ idea for Confederate — a series about an alternate history where slavery remained legal in America — that it took only seconds from HBO’s announcement for angry reactions to pour in from every corner of media, social and otherwise. Considering the current state of inequality in our country, I hardly need to list out those reasons for anyone; people know in their collective gut, this isn’t a good idea. It’s not only the series premise that’s concerning; it’s the people who’ve created and will be running Confederate, and the thought that, because they’ve built an incredibly successful world with HBO, audiences should blindly trust them or the network.
As reactions to the press release spread, the more I — and many others — thought about Benioff and Weiss as showrunners of an incredibly sensitive topic, the more it bothered me, and it’s not just because they’re white guys trying to tell a story about a black experience. It’s because these particular men are who they are, and we’ve seen how they handle problematic Game of Thrones‘ issues; excessive rape and gratuitous violence and nudity have long been part and parcel of the series. And the fact is, those subjects haven’t been handled well; criticism of those elements haven’t been handled well. There’s been a sort of stolid line of defense — a wall — of protection around things like a rape or two that never happened in George R. R. Martin’s books. Nonconsensual sex inserted for no reason of consequence — Jaime’s rape of Cersei — didn’t have lasting (that we’ve seen) effects on either character, nor was it addressed between them, but it left viewers reeling and we’ve not forgotten.
At HBO’s TCA panel this week, HBO’s programming president, Casey Bloys admitted the Confederate announcement wasn’t well handled, and made excuses for the misstep. Rather than settling nerves, what he and the series writers/producers have said in the press release’s aftermath, only add to the overall unease.
File this under hindsight is 20-20. … The idea that we would be able to announce an idea that is so sensitive, and requires such care and thought on the part of the producers, in a press release was misguided on our part.
We assumed it’d be controversial. I think we could have done a better job with the press rollout. … What we realized in retrospect is people don’t have the benefit of having the context of the conversations with the producers that we had.”
Bloys and the people involved with Confederate can’t even get the announcement right — admit it was poorly handled — but we’re supposed to trust them with the series’ extremely sensitive subject material?
In statements following that “misguided” press release, comments that the series is “Controversial” is mentioned time and again, and that in itself is worrisome. It almost begs the question, how much bearing did controversiality have on the decision to greenlight the show? Debating over problematic issues surrounding Game of Thrones has kept it in the public conversation nonstop, so is provocation — ratings through strife — part of the package?
In response to public comment on Benioff and Weiss handling Confederate, much has been made of the fact that the series also has two black writers/producers, husband and wife Nichelle Tramble Spellman (The Good Wife, Justified) and Malcolm Spellman (Empire), who’ve also come forward to discuss the announcement.
The rollout just wasn’t right … If you read that press release, a logical conclusion would be that the guys from Game of Thrones are doing a fantasy show – similar to Game of Thrones—where slavery is legal. If that hit me cold, I would say, ‘What?’ So I understand the reaction.”
Spellman further explained that the series will not be “antebellum imagery, it’s not whips, it’s not plantations, it’s not a celebration or pornography for slavery. And, most importantly, it’s not an entire nation of slaves.”
Emphasis on America as a divided nation will look more like Apartheid-era South Africa, “to show how today’s problems with racial issues — over-policing of black people, disenfranchisement through voter I.D. laws, lack of representation at the highest level of power — is rooted in the nation’s legacy of slavery.”
I think there is less discomfort is dealing with slavery when it is in the past. But talking about white supremacy [in today’s times] without trying to … talk about where it comes from, is crazy to us.” [Malcolm Spellman]
Sorry, Malcolm, but many people are uncomfortable dealing with slavery, full stop. We are not a recovered nation.
Speaking with Vulture, David Benioff spoke of his own fears about making the series, adding that adrenaline from that emotion is fueling his desire to write.
This is scary, for all of us. It’s scary for different reasons. But it is a pretty terrifying prospect getting into it. We knew it would be, and now it’s come true. It’s obviously creating a lot of controversy before anything’s happened just on the basis of a press release, and that will only continue as we get closer. But even aside from that outside part of it, there’s just the frightening part of — we’re all gonna put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get it right. And that’s scary, but it’s also exciting. It’s what gets the adrenaline pumping and what gets you excited to sit down at your computer and start typing up themes and running them off the other three …”
As much respect as we Game of Thrones‘ fans have for these people who brought GRRM’s beloved fantasy to life, a project fueled by fear and controversy — one whose reveal can’t even be handled well — simply doesn’t bode well, not for them and not for any potential audience. As sensitive as everything about Confederate is, HBO and everyone involved in its creation should have, from step one, proceeded with the utmost care, and that they didn’t only creates more concern.