Another Problem for HBO’s ‘Confederate': It’s Been Done

Creator of 2004 faux documentary “C.S.A.” is talking with his lawyer

Last Updated: February 26, 2018 @ 6:05 PM

HBO’s upcoming series “Confederate,” about an America in which the South won the Civil War, has battled criticism almost since the moment the creators of “Game of Thrones” announced it as their next project for the network. But one obstacle has gone largely unnoticed: It’s been done.

The excellent 2004 indie drama “C.S.A.: Confederate States of America” presents itself as an alternate-reality documentary that recounts how the Union lost and white supremacists took over the United States. It has a depressing punchline: Our country might not be all that different than it is now. (You can watch it on Hulu, among other places.)

“C.S.A.” writer-director Kevin Willmott recently told his local paper, the Kansas City Star: “All I can say is executive producer of my film, ‘C.S.A.: Confederate States of America,’ Spike Lee, and I will be speaking with our big-time lawyer. No further comment.”

Willmott did not immediately return an email for comment from TheWrap. Neither did HBO. Willmott also collaborated with Lee on 2015’s “Chi-Raq.”

Critics of “Confederate” have questioned whether its two white male creators — “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss — can responsibly tell the story of a slave-ocracy. Benioff and Weiss are working with two African-American executive producers, Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman. Willmott is also African-American.

The criticisms of “Confederate” break down largely along racial lines, with white critics and creatives, Judd Apatow among them, more inclined to argue that Weiss, Benioff and the Spellmans shouldn’t be pre-judged on a project that no one has yet seen.

Those who have taken aim at “Confederate” include such influential African-American writers as Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

In a recent essay for The Atlantic titled “Don’t Give HBO’s ‘Confederate’ the Benefit of the Doubt,” Coates rejected the notion that anyone could write speculative fiction about what the world might be like if the Confederates had won — because, he argued, despite the Confederacy’s defeat, the white supremacy it espoused has infiltrated mainstream American culture. He wrote:

African Americans do not need science-fiction, or really any fiction, to tell them that that “history is still with us.” It’s right outside our door. It’s in our politics. It’s on our networks. And ‘Confederate’ is not immune. The show’s very operating premise, the fact that it roots itself in a long white tradition of imagining away emancipation, leaves one wondering how “lost” the Lost Cause really was.

That question is as horrifically relevant as ever the week after the president of the United States was accused of defending racists who protested the removal of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, and just days after thousands in Boston turned out to shut down other advocates of white supremacy.

The awful, lingering influence of the Confederacy may even be more clear today than it was when Willmott made his film more than a decade ago.

“Confederate” may be years away, if it ever airs at all. TV projects don’t always come to fruition, and each Sunday during “Game of Thrones,” Twitter skirmishes break out between the #NoConfederate and #YesConfederate factions.

But fortunately, none of us have to wait to see whether two white men can address the Confederate question thoughtfully.

A Black man already did.