The Real Reason HBO's Confederate Is Triggering — And Why I'll Probably Still Watch It

This story was originally published on July 19, 2017. HBO responded to the #NoConfederate backlash on July 30.
It’s hard to predict which depictions of social injustices in television and film will trigger me to the point that I can’t bear to watch the show. Handmaid’s Tale has me so afraid that the men’s rights activists from Reddit are going to try to recreate Gilead that I’ve been inspired to start a mattress fund. But despite this strong plausibility, I didn’t miss a single episode. I’m obsessed with June making it to freedom and reuniting with her daughter. Meanwhile, I still haven’t been able to get past the episode of Westworld where Thandie Newton’s robot character is naked and confused with her entrails spilling out onto the floor. The visualization of an amusement park for wealthy (and mainly white) people to act out their fantasies of murder and general dominance over other human beings was too offensive for me. There is no rhyme or reason to how my politics will align with my willingness to consume content, which is why I’m not ready to rule out the possibility that an upcoming series from HBO, Confederate, might hold my attention despite its triggering setup — and the outcry it prompted on Twitter, with the #NoConfederate hashtag set up to ask HBO to carefully consider how it handles the show.
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Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have already inked a deal with HBO to begin filming Confederate after the Game of Thrones series finale. According to the press release, the new show will envision an “alternative timeline” where Southern states have seceded from the Union, slavery is still a legal and booming business, and a third American civil war is brewing. Because Confederate will air on HBO, we can assume that the creatives responsible for it will take full advantage of the opportunity to depict the horrific and violent realities of the institution of slavery. I shiver at the thought.
Twitter had a lot to say about a show built — by two white men nonetheless — on the fantasy that slavery is still a thing, and I agree with most of that pushback. Despite our own socio-political fantasies that we live in a United States that has put slavery behind us, this simply isn’t true. The prison industrial complex still relies on a population of subjugated people in the millions in order to make a profit, and most of the population is comprised of people of color. Ava Duvernay’s award-winning documentary 13th is just one excellent source on the topic. When our president has been officially endorsed by the KKK's premiere publication, it feels a little too soon to be envisioning what America would be like if slavery was still around.
I would also be remiss not to mention that handling Confederate responsibly seems like a lofty goal for Benioff and Weiss, who have faced criticism for the baseless violence, depiction of slavery, and lack of diversity in Game of Thrones. However, the network has also recruited two seasoned producers of color to assist them in bringing the story to life. Malcolm Spellman has worked on Empire and will be turning Meagan Good into an icon on Foxy Brown. Letting people of color tell their own stories of oppression is always a good idea, and this could absolutely work in Confederate’s favor.
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Which brings me to the question I have been asking myself since I heard about it: Will I watch it? There is a strong possibility that the answer is yes, at least one episode. It could be the problematic mess that many people have already pegged it to be. But given that is set to air during the second half of what has been a shitshow of a presidential term, it could also be the show that reflects how many of us feel about the country. Their fictional pending civil war could be the inspiration for the next phase of our resistance. And then there is the part that I’m ashamed to admit, which is that sometimes a drama series is just too good to look away from.
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