Politics, Moderate



TV shows depicting alternate histories can teach us something about our reality today

Esther J. Cepeda on

HBO stepped into this sort of unease last week when announcing that it would begin production on a high-concept drama series called "Confederate." The show would be set in an alternate America in which the Southern states had seceded from the Union and slavery continued into the present day.

At the top of the concerns is that two white, male showrunners -- David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the guys responsible for "Game of Thrones," which has itself faced criticism for its portrayals of sexual violence and slavery -- are headlining the telling of a story that has renewed cultural currency at a time when lynching nooses are popping up on college campuses and Confederate flags are flying proudly in many parts of the country (even five doors down from where I live in solidly blue northern Illinois).

The bigger concern should be that, at this early stage, there is no set story for "Confederate." The TV version of "The Man in the High Castle" may inspire some misgivings, but there's no question that Dick's novel was solidly, undeniably anti-fascist.

Our entertainments hold much power over us and a great capacity to shape our perceptions to the world around us. It's only natural to be concerned that a project like "Confederate" could end up playing like high-brow Confederacy fan fiction.

Still, even though I'm not a viewer, much less a fan of, "Game of Thrones," a thoughtful show about an America divided by slavery is an opportunity to learn something insightful about the present day.

To their credit, Benioff and Weiss chose Malcolm Spellman and Nichelle Tramble Spellman, both well-respected black writers and producers, as full partners in telling this story.

As the writers have noted, they might screw up the whole opportunity to explore an alternate "Confederate" America. But let's give them a fair chance to show us an awful future that might have been. We might learn something important about our country.


Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group



blog comments powered by Disqus

Social Connections


Clay Bennett Nick Anderson Chris Britt Signe Wilkinson Marshall Ramsey Gary Varvel