HBO received backlash recently when it announced that “Game of Thrones” creators David Bernioff and D.B. Weiss, two white men, would be creating a new series called “Confederate,” based during the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era but with a twist. The alternative history series would explore what would have happened if Confederate States had remained seceded from the Union. In it, reportedly, slavery is legal and now a modern-day institution.
Amazon Video was quick with its response, at least in terms of the amount of time it usually takes to pitch a new show and get it approved. It turns out they didn’t come up with the premise in the two weeks or so since “Confederate” was announced; they just decided it was the right time to announce the premise of the show which has been in the works for over a year.
“Black America” is also an alternative history show based around the Civil War, slavery and Reconstruction. It is being created and produced by two black men, Will Packer and Aaron McGruder who boast such productions as “Straight Outta Compton,” “The Boondocks,” and “Think Like a Man.”
In “Black America,” freed slaves were given reparations in the form of land; specifically, they were given the states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. The two series are similar in many ways, and both presumably aim to reinterrogate a shameful and heinous American past in a thought-provoking way. “Confederate” lets the white, slave-owning and slavery-defending southerners get their way and create their own sovereign state with slavery in place centuries later.
The problem is that, even though the South lost the physical war, they did not lose the psychological, social or even the economic war, at least not fully.
“Black America” will explore what many believe should have been the result of slavery’s dismantling: reparations paid to former slaves to attempt to make up for the centuries of dehumanizations and oppression, and to give them some semblance of an equal footing with their white counterparts.
In early America, after all, white colonists and settlers were given land for free or cheap, land stolen after Native Americans were displaced or killed in mass genocides. Early American settlers had their country, houses, railroads, governments built with free labor and got two and a half centuries in terms of a head start on social and political power, land-ownership and wealth.
When slavery ended, Jim Crow and the KKK replaced it, along with other practices and institutions that involved perhaps just enough of a wage so that they couldn’t be called slavery. The South lost its economic dependence on unpaid, exploited labor and white people lost their outright entitlement to feel and act superior to an entire race of people.
In “Black America,” former slaves take their reparations, their states, and form their own sovereign country. Enslaved people who were born and raised in the United States had their cultural, national, ethnic identities demolished and erased; even if they had wanted to go find their home countries, many wouldn’t be able to find enough information to be able to do so, and most would be lucky to have even a little bit of a connection to their ancestor’s lives left. Forming their own home in the land they were forcibly brought to is a compromise that would have at least meant autonomy, self-actualization and an actual new start.
According to Deadline’s article about the Amazon series: “The sovereign nation they formed, New Colonia, has had a tumultuous and sometimes violent relationship with its looming “Big Neighbor,” both ally and foe, the United States. The past 150 years have been witness to military incursions, assassinations, regime change, coups, etc. Today, after two decades of peace with the U.S. and unprecedented growth, an ascendant New Colonia joins the ranks of major industrialized nations on the world stage as America slides into rapid decline. Inexorably tied together, the fate of two nations, indivisible, hangs in the balance.”
It was the announcement of “Confederate,” as well as, presumably, the backlash it received for once again telling the story of slavery from the perspective of the white people that prompted Amazon’s announcement this week.
The series is described as a drama with a trace of McGruder’s “sardonic wit.”
Packer describes it as wish-fulfillment, a utopian world that “utopia that has been on the minds of generations of black Americans.” The creators are working with academic historians to ensure that they get their alternative history right and believable.
Of the “Confederate” series from HBO, which is still quite newly in the works according to HBO, Packer said: “the fact that there is the contemplation of contemporary slavery makes it something that I would not be a part of producing nor consuming. Slavery is far too real and far too painful, and we still see the manifestations of it today as a country for me to ever view that as a form of entertainment.”
Though both series seem to be attempting to explore the racial history of this country and how it continues to affect our social, legal and economic institutions today, it is definitely problematic for two white men to imagine a system of slavery still alive today, especially when the inheritance of slavery is ongoing, as it is.
As Packer puts it: “You still have black Americans who are suffering from the effects of slavery in various ways. You still have the prison-industrial complex that disproportionally imprisons black and brown people, you can trace that back for many reasons to slavery.”
He says that he hopes his and McGruder’s series can hold a mirror to this country and where we are today, what mistakes we have made, and “what we should do going forward.”
There is as yet no premier date for either show.