Ta-Nehisi Coates: HBO’s ‘Confederate’ Doesn’t Deserve Benefit of the Doubt

Coates writes that the “racist hierarchy which Lee and Davis sought to erect, lives on” and shouldn’t be depicted in a TV show

Last Updated: August 5, 2017 @ 4:30 PM

Author Ta-Nehisi Coates disputes HBO’s request that critics of the upcoming Civil War-era drama “Confederate” reserve judgment until it airs, saying it doesn’t deserve the wait for a verdict the network has asked for.

In an article for The Atlantic called “The Lost Cause Rides Again” published Friday, Coates points out that had the response to “Confederate” been positive, the network probably wouldn’t be asking audiences to “reserve judgement,” as HBO said in a statement responding to the backlash.

“HBO hoped to communicate that approval to its audience through the announcement,” Coates writes. “And had that communication been successful, had ‘Confederate’ been greeted with rapturous anticipation, it is hard to imagine the network asking its audience to tamp down and wait.”

From “Game of Thrones” show-runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, along with African-American writers Nichelle and Malcom Spellman, who will executive produce, “Confederate” takes place during what it calls the Third American Civil War. It follows a group of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, now a demilitarized zone and its cast of characters include freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists and the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families they control.

Audiences have been voicing strong opposition to the show on Twitter, launching a campaign during Sunday night’s “Game of Thrones” episode using the hashtag #NoConfederate, which sprung to Twitter’s No. 1 trending spot in the U.S. and No. 2 worldwide. Critics believe that the show’s premise alone undermines the experience of black Americans today.

Coates points out that the show’s premise isn’t only “What if the South had won?” but “What if the White South had won?” Coates writes, “The distinction matters. For while the Confederacy, as a political entity, was certainly defeated, and chattel slavery outlawed, the racist hierarchy which [Robert E.] Lee and [Jefferson] Davis sought to erect, lives on.”

“We have been living with the lie for so long,” Coates continues. “And we cannot fix the lie by asking ‘What if the white South won?’ and waiting for an answer, because the lie is not in the answer, but in the question itself.”

Coates believes that the show creators don’t fully grasp the point that “the war is over for them, not for us.”

“At this very hour, black people all across the South are still fighting the battle which they joined during Reconstruction — securing equal access to the ballot — and resisting a president whose resemblance to Andrew Johnson is uncanny,” Coates writes. “‘Confederate’ is the kind of provocative thought experiment that can be engaged in when someone else’s lived reality really is fantasy to you, when your grandmother is not in danger of losing her vote, when the terrorist attack on Charleston evokes honest sympathy, but inspires no direct fear.”

HBO didn’t respond immediately to TheWrap’s request for a response to Coates’ article, and will update this post accordingly. They did, however, say in a previous statement, “We have great respect for the dialogue and concern being expressed around ‘Confederate.’ We have faith that [writers] Nichelle, Dan, David and Malcolm will approach the subject with care and sensitivity. The project is currently in its infancy so we hope that people will reserve judgment until there is something to see.”

Coates is the author of “Between the World and Me,” “The Beautiful Struggle” and several “Black Panther” comics. He is also a national correspondent for The Atlantic.

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