HBO's Post-Charlottesville Defense of Confederate Might Be Its Worst One Yet


Last month, HBO announced that it would be joining the ranks of Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale and Amazon’s Man in the High Castle and getting into the dystopian alt-history thriller game. Their take? Confederate, a show from two white men in which the South successfully seceded from the Union, “giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution.” As you would imagine, the show received a ton of backlash, seeing as how the remnants of slavery are still far too present to warrant a dystopian riff (for instance, the prison system is an existing, modern institution of slavery).

A lot has happened since the producers pleaded with viewers to hold their criticism until the show airs—most disturbingly, the events in Charlottesville. The violence there proved, yet again, that white supremacy is alive and well, and that there’s no such thing as a Confederate dystopian universe because America is living in it right now. In light of what is surely merely one in a chain of future confrontations between fascists and white supremacists and people who aren’t Nazis, Confederate seems like an increasingly bad idea. Nevertheless, HBO persisted. Asked about the show’s viability in the wake of all of this, the network told the New York Times on Monday that it was full steam ahead:

We support everybody’s right to express an opinion but the suggestion of irresponsibility on our part is simply undeserved…HBO has a long history of championing intelligent storytelling and we will approach this project with the same level of thoughtfulness that has always defined our programming. We recognize the sensitivity of this project and will treat it with the respect that it deserves. Our creative partners should be given time to develop the series rather than face prejudgment.

Not irresponsible, huh? Thoughtful, huh? Um, remember how Bill Maher still has a show on HBO despite saying the n-word on Real Time and trashing Muslims every chance he gets? Or how Game of Thrones’ racial politics are terrible, just like those of Girls and Sex and the City and countless other shows? Just because HBO was smart enough to give Issa Rae a timeslot doesn’t mean the network has a stellar track record when it comes to race. HBO already gave the world a solid contribution in terms of white supremacist characters with JK Simmon’s Schillinger from Oz. Let’s just leave it at that.

While Confederate won’t be out for at least another two years, the idea that a show speculating about the Confederacy winning the Civil War is being developed at a time when white supremacists are attacking people and even killing over a Robert E. Lee statue says enough about where HBO’s priorities are—as does its insistence on continuing the project.

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