HBO’s “Confederate” Will Never Make It to the Airwaves, and That’s a Good Thing

Not a chance in hell.

Rest assured, no matter what its executives are saying now, Time Warner will not damage its corporate reputation by putting a show with a concept as contemptuous as Confederate on the air. Who would be the audience for such nonsense, anyway?

As the New York Times noted last week:

It was supposed to be HBO’s next big thing: a high-concept drama from the creators of “Game of Thrones,” set in an alternate America, where the Southern states had seceded from the Union and slavery continued into the present day.

Instead, the new series, called “Confederate,” has provoked a passionate outcry from potential viewers, who are questioning how HBO and the creators will handle this volatile mixture of race, politics and history. Several historians and cultural critics are also skeptical about whether the creators of “Game of Thrones,” David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, are the right people to address the subject and if it should be attempted at all.

“Confederate” arrives at a time when many minority groups feel their civil rights are under siege, and when issues surrounding the Civil War and its legacy — the propriety of displaying Confederate flags; the relocations and razings of Confederate monuments — continue to confront Americans almost daily.

To the show’s critics, its promise to depict slavery as it might be practiced in modern times is perhaps the most worrisome element of “Confederate.” They say that slavery, a grave and longstanding scar on the national psyche, especially for black Americans, should not be trivialized for the sake of a fantasy TV series.

Those critics are right, and Time Warner doesn’t want to be remembered for years to come as the company that produced hardcore slavery porn. The executives who were justifiably horrified when Bill Maher used the N-word don’t want any part of this.

In a news release announcing its acquisition of “Confederate,” HBO said the series would depict hypothetical events leading up to a “Third American Civil War,” and follow characters “on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone,” including “freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slaveholding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”

While this subject matter is delicate in its own right, there is particular concern about how it will be handled by Mr. Benioff and Mr. Weiss.

That’s putting it mildly. What in the blue hell were these folks thinking?

Yes, it’s been four decades since the United States was galvanized by Roots. However, it may be time for us to collectivity acknowledge that there was a certain percentage of the US population that watched Roots precisely because they wanted to see blacks being whipped and beaten, just as a certain percentage of the US population watched All in the Family precisely because they thought the Archie Bunker character was the good guy.

Remember the controversy surrounding the horrible 1975 film Mandingo, which Paramount Pictures chose to inflict upon movie theatres? The film famously ended with a slave being boiled to death for sleeping with the wife of a slaveowner. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert declared:

“Mandingo” is racist trash, obscene in its manipulation of human beings and feelings, and excruciating to sit through…Here is a movie which, in addition to the nauseating scene [of a slave being boiled to death], has frontal nudity, flagellation, the auctioning of naked slaves and a fistfight in which heavyweight boxer Ken Norton kills his opponent by tearing out his jugular with his teeth.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Game of Thrones guys plan to similarly contaminate the screen with the most lurid and titillating depiction of slavery possible. It would be a corporate nightmare for Time Warner–one that the company will be sure to avoid.

There is something to be said for corporate responsibility in the entertainment industry. Seven years after the Mandingo debacle, Paramount made the sound decision to severely curtail the US release of White Dog, a thriller starring Kristy McNichol as a young woman who adopts a stray dog, only to discover that its previous owner thought that training the dog to viciously attack African-Americans was a way to make America great again. Paramount was apparently nervous about racists seeing the movie and getting ideas; ultimately, they made the right call.

In this time–in any time–slavery porn is a bad idea. Making a profit from America’s original sin is a bad idea. This is one show that will be canceled before even one episode is produced.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.