The new HBO series is slated to do what Hollywood has done for decades: fictionalize very real Black pain for profit.

On Wednesday, HBO announced that after the conclusion of Game of Thrones, the network will tap the show creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, for a new alternate history series called Confederate.

The show is set in a fictionalized timeline where the South seceded from the Union and where slavery has continued into the modern era. The cast is complete with a suite of slave hunters, Confederate politicians, and even a group of slaveholding executives and the families they control.

From the looks of it, HBO’s new series Confederate is slated to do what Hollywood has done for decades: fictionalize very real Black pain for commercial profit.

After all, this show’s premise proposes to create a “fictionalized” plot about the continuation of slavery, as if thousands of American farmers and corporations didn’t continue to practice slavery well into the 1940s. The show acts as if the latter half of the twentieth century didn’t see America’s prison population swell with millions of Black bodies. It pretends that today’s prisons and venerable corporations don’t exploit the 13th amendment to profit from forced prison labor. HBO’s Confederate imagines that there aren’t more people under state control today than there were in chains at the peak of American slavery.

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Really, at a time when Black artists and creators get little to no recognition or critical acclaim for their work, is what we need another show produced by white guys and what they think 21st century slavery would look like in America? As it stands today, Confederate threatens to further degrade an already racially inequitable media landscape.

I’m sure HBO would deny this as its intentions. After being accused of exploiting American racism, the show’s creators responded saying the opposite. “It’s an ugly and a painful history,” D.B. Weiss said of slavery in a recent interview with Vulture, “but we all think this is a reason to talk about it, not a reason to run from it. And this feels like a potentially valuable way to talk about it.”

However, while Weiss thinks there’s ample value to be gained from a show that explores the nation’s original sin through this alternate history, the truth is that programming delving into the very real systematic oppression of practices like slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and mass incarceration would go further to educate Americans and confront the shadows of their own culture. Moreover, this would do so without the insult of fantasizing about new ways to oppress Black people in an alternate dimension. If HBO is set on producing a fictionalized show with nuanced characters that explore and complicate America’s racial history, they can do that – they could pick up Underground.

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Despite what HBO would have you to believe, making equitable stories is not as hard as it seems. It would look like letting people tell their own stories – giving them complete creative control to explore their own culture and history. Thus far, even taking into account shows like Issa Rae’s Insecure, HBO only appears to be committed to creative tokenism.

As assistant Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at Stony Brook University, Crystal Marie Fleming explained on Twitter:

It’s not that storytelling should be timid about tackling society’s biggest problems. But at this late date, we’re past the need for plots centering white saviors, whitewashed casts, and sanitized American history. It’s no guarantee Confederate will do these things. But history shows that the odds are not in its favor. And with the state of American politics, as it is, the last thing we need is another reminder of how little control Black people have, and have had over their lives, their bodies, and their stories.

 

 

 

Featured Image: Via Wikipedia Commons

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