Monday, 31 July 2017

#NoConfederate: HBO's Upcoming Slave Drama Causes a Social Media Storm



A massive social media campaign has begun hoping to cancel the upcoming HBO slave drama Confederate before it enters production.

The hashtag #NoConfederate trended at #1 on Twitter on Sunday 30th July during Game of Thrones to raise awareness for the new campaign. Activist April Reign, who also started the #OscarsSoWhite campaign created the hastag. 

According to the press release from HBO, Confederate will chronicle the events leading to the Third American Civil War and takes place in an alternate timeline where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story will follow a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone - freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.

Basically, in the show's universe, slavery was never abolished and instead, has manifested into a contemporary institution. 

Confederate was picked up straight to series several weeks ago and is produced by Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (two white men) and Malcolm Spellman and Nichelle Tramble Spellman, and will launch following the conclusion of GoT in either late 2018 or early 2019. The move shows the confidence HBO has in the show by allowing it to bypass the pilot stage. This should come as no surprise thanks to Game of Thrones becoming their biggest show and the need to find the next big thing.

After reading the odd synopsis for the show, I could not help but wonder why HBO thought Confederate is story that needs to be told in today's society. There are already racial tensions in the United States regarding the treatment and representation of black people not only in the media but also in the real world. I do not see how Confederate will help to solve these tensions and problems, become a focal point for conversation or change anything for the better. In the show, black people are still enslaved... why do I need to watch this? Why should I watch this? What will I learn from the show?

For a show which sets its foundations firmly within the America's barbaric past, I fail to see any understanding from the auspices involved as to how this show could affect racial tensions and representations of African-Americans in the media beyond its controversial synopsis. Yes, it will cause conversation and debate (the show is already controversial and it has yet to film a single episode or hire a cast) how will this benefit viewers? In a time when the media are finally paying attention to black actors, characters, films and TV shows that are not set during slavery (like Best Picture winner Moonlight to the critically acclaimed biopic Hidden Figures) how will keeping black people in slavery, in the show's universe, help to further the advancement of black creatives?

Though I do believe we should wait until we see the first episode to seriously scrutinise the show, at this point in the time, Confederate seems like a ploy by HBO and the show's creators to cause controversy to grab the attention of viewers to find the next big hit show.

I have never watched Game of Thrones, though I have frequently heard about the show's problems with diversity and its approach to complex themes such as sexual assault, all of which would have to be conveyed in Confederate. How can two white male showrunners with a known problem with diversity and representing sexual assault in a fantasy TV show do so accurately and authentically whilst keeping in mind the weight of the issue at hand?

Slavery continues to be an extremely controversial topic in the United States. Recent films such as Django Unchained and 12 Years A Slave have been controversial amongst both black and white audiences. There are many African-American audiences who are tired of films and TV shows about slavery. This is somewhat understandable due to the lack of representation of African-Americans on television and in film. It can feel as though a vast majority of major, starring roles for African-Americans are that of slaves. 



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