#TBB Says SciFi Should Be Used To Expand Imagination, Not Limit It!
From the woman who brought us #OscarsSoWhite, comes the declaration that, “The commodification of Black pain for the enjoyment of others must stop!”
With that, she launched the new hashtag for people to re-post and tweet to halt HBO’s development of the series Confederate during Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones (July 30th). The timing to coincide with the globally successful show was chosen because the GoT team is currently working on Confederate – a new show for the heretofore ground-breaking, diverse-thinking HBO, once GoT ends with this 7th and final series.
The fuss is all about the premise of the new show – a ‘re-imagining’ of American history in which The South, having seceded from the USA and fighting a couple more wars along the way, retains legal slavery which ‘evolves’ into a modern institution.
Yes, they are serious.
Yes, show-runners and self-confessed history nerds David Benioff and D. B. Weiss will be joined by two African-American executive producers, writers Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman, to collaborate.
No doubt, they believe that their addition, as well as telling the story of ‘a broad swath of characters either side of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone‘ will give it a palatable, ‘fresh’ appeal: Freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and their subjugated families. It will also, presumably, give them the QT (Quentin Tarantino or, excuse) to write offensive dialogue for television. They don’t understand the kerfuffle, and clearly haven’t seen or understood Ava DuVernay’s 13th. As afropunk.com pointed out in reporting April Reign’s move, “Hello? Have you heard of the prison industrial complex? Just checking.”
Crucially, 13th shows the money, the insidiousness and secrecy needed to retain the power to subjugate millions of people. This project doesn’t seem to get that you don’t necessarily start off asking yourself, as Benioff states in Vulture.Com, “What would the world have looked like if Lee had sacked D.C., if the South had won?” and end up deciding that, through the wonder of science fiction, in 2017, slavery would still be a modern institution!!! That the slaves themselves*, or Africa, or even decency, or economics, or international sanctions wouldn’t have intervened to outlaw it and impose freedom another way!!! That without the money and the secrecy, America may not have developed into the divided nation it is today. Benioff took what was an original two hour feature idea, talked it over with his mate Weiss, and realised the world-building opportunities with an ensemble piece with dozens of characters and multiple story lines… which still negates African history in the Americas.
In choosing General Lee’s failed 1863 incursion, these history nerds have decided that the largely non-violent African-American civil rights struggle still could never have succeeded or taken a more violent or migrational turn, no matter the timeline – Nat Tuner’s Southampton Revolution, the German Coast Uprising in New Orleans and Denmark Vesey in South Carolina – all in 18th and 19th century United States. Poet-prophet Ali bin Muhammad’s Zanj Rebellion leading East African slaves against the Abbasid Caliphate in Iraq; Toussaint Louverture’s Haitian Revolution, Madison Washington’s insurrection and redirection of the slave ship Creole to Nassau, Nanny of the Maroons against the British in Jamaica and Quilombo dos Palmares of Brazil – all in the Caribbean and South America.
What of the commencement of the African American Ivy League Universities – Howard, Spelman, Morehouse, Clark and Morris Brown, and the numerous inventions such as the X-ray spectrometer, folding bed, active ingredient of leprosy cure, web-based equal opportunities/employment tracking software LinkLine, the cataract surgery-related Laserphaco probe, rotary engine, gastroscope, spark plug, the silicone retina, ironing board, artificial pacemaker control unit, street sweeper truck, paper hole punch, rotary blade lawn mower, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, refrigerated truck system, aeronautics and space mathematics, organ transplant pioneering (particularly renal), multiple discoveries and advances in pharmacy and plant uses, and many more. Imagine so much knowledge turned toward weapons development and the subjugation of a people…
Not forgetting the ‘modern’ civil rights organisations like the Niagara Movement, the African Blood Brotherhood, the NAACP, the New Negro Movement, Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, the Father Divine movement, the Nation of Islam, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, Rosa Parks and Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party. In truth, there were probably more reasons for white supremacy to fail than to succeed in America, had money and secrecy and the subversion of the constitution not been so powerfully utilised.
Weiss continued, “… it goes without saying slavery is the worst thing that ever happened in American history. It’s our original sin as a nation. And history doesn’t disappear. That sin is still with us in many ways. Confederate, in all of our minds, will be an alternative-history show. It’s a science-fiction show. One of the strengths of science fiction is that it can show us how this history is still with us in a way no strictly realistic drama ever could, whether it were a historical drama or a contemporary drama. It’s an ugly and a painful history, but we all think this is a reason to talk about it, not a reason to run from it. And this feels like a potentially valuable way to talk about it.”
Spellman added, “… it’s deeply personal, because we are the offspring of this history. We deal with it directly and have for our entire lives. We deal with it in Hollywood, we deal with it in the real world when we’re dealing with friends and family members. And I think Nichelle and I both felt a sense of urgency in trying to find a way to support a discussion that is percolating but isn’t happening enough. As people of color and minorities in general are starting to get a voice, I think there’s a duty to force this discussion.”
Seems to me they are supporting a discussion that hasn’t been proposed by people of colour, by #BlackLivesMatter or similar organisations, but by people who wish to use science fiction to realise a partial vision, built around the erroneous construct of helpless Africans.
Tramble Spellman said, “…what the conversation turned into is how we could draw parallels between what has been described as America’s original sin to a present-day conversation. In this futuristic world, you could have this conversation in a straightforward manner without it being steeped in history: “What does this look like now.” I think what was interesting to all of us was that we were going to handle this show, and handle the content of the show, without using typical antebellum imagery. There is not going to be, you know, the big Gone With the Wind mansion. This is present day, or close to present day, and how the world would have evolved if the South had been successful seceding from the Union. And what was also exciting to me was the idea that in order to build this, we would have to rebuild world history … Okay, if this had happened here, how did the rest of the world change? That was another huge bonus factor for me — the idea of rewriting some of the history of, like, the French Revolution. What happened in the entire world if that one event had ended differently?”
The world, but not what stolen Africans or Africa might have done to empower themselves over the course of hundreds of years!?
Spellman qualifies later with, “This is not a world in which the entire country is enslaved. Slavery is in one half of the country. And the North is the North. As Nichelle was saying, the imagery should be no whips and no plantations.” Or ‘antebellum imagery’ as she described it. “… people don’t have to get onboard with what we’re doing based on a press release. But when they’re writing about us, and commenting about us, they should be mindful of the fact that there are no sellouts involved in this show. Me and Nichelle are not props being used to protect someone else. We are people who feel a need to address issues the same way they do, and they should at least humanize the other end of those tweets and articles.” They would have preferred people reserve comment until after the HBO premiere.
O. M. G. Please, people, if this series ever airs, do not include this as an example of afro-futurism. It’s not ours as Africans!
Some have observed that there was no/not much outcry against The Man In The High Castle – the highest rated/watched show in Amazon’s 2½ minute history. Well, I can’t speak for the Jewish community, and quite frankly, I’m surprised there wasn’t an outcry from the Jewish quarter. But, as Nairobi Thompson has highlighted and tried to redress, our erasure from World War II events means that its perhaps understandable that we haven’t necessarily felt invested in its re-telling. TMITHC is also based on a 1962 novel by the much-film-adapted Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep AKA Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, Next, The Adjustment Bureau, Paycheck, Second Variety – the inspiration for Terminator). That world, in which white, right-wing Christians can live a nice life, also claims the existence of a ‘better’ reality. Quite honestly, I’d say it’s easy to appreciate the artistry of an ‘alternate’ timeline when you’re secure in your advantageous reality.
So, apart from the fact that the entire world agrees that slavery is an unacceptable face of human behaviour, and even if these people intend to use their democratic freedom to write the downfall of this confederate regime; or to hold a mirror up to the similarities between an overtly developed, alternative slaving nation to our covertly developed slaving nation, they will have misrepresented uprooted Africans and erased our potential on a massive scale that cannot be justified as mere fiction. And then, you have to ask yourself, what kind of people in what scenario thinks such a ‘what if?’ In the case of Benioff and Weiss, the kind of people who didn’t use their democratic freedom to think twice about representing RR Martin’s negative depiction of people of colour on the page in Game of Thrones to faithfully translate and amplify it onto the screen. From the self-invested Lysene Summer Islander pirate Salladhor Saan (really? Summer? Sheesh!), through other very minor characters, to the war-like, slaver, Martini copulator Dothraki (anytime, any place, anyone, anywhere).
At the end of the day, film and television are mediums of mass consumption. They are more likely to influence behaviours, attitudes and constructing preconceptions than any so-called mass-produced paperback, and with that comes great responsibility.
April Reign says she will “not rest until “Confederate” is scrapped.” Depending on how far the project has developed, the most we can probably hope for is a careful consideration, empathy and sensitivity of those scripts when they’re written.