#NoCon­fed­er­ate cam­paign against HBO slave drama takes off

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY LYNN EL­BER

A so­cial me­dia cam­paign to de­rail HBO’s planned mod­ern­day South­ern slav­ery drama quickly caught fire, prompt­ing the ca­ble chan­nel to ask de­trac­tors to with­hold judg­ment un­til they see “Con­fed­er­ate.’’

The cam­paign, with “Os­carsSoWhite’’ ac­tivist April Reign among its or­ga­niz­ers, asked peo­ple to tweet to HBO with the hash­tag “NoCon­fed­er­ate’’ dur­ing Sun­day’s broad­cast of the chan­nel’s “Game of Thrones.’’

“Game of Thrones’’ is pro­duced by David Be­nioff and D.B. Weiss, who are de­vel­op­ing the re­cently an­nounced “Con­fed­er­ate.’’ The pair, who are white, will work on “Con­fed­er­ate’’ with hus­band-and-wife Mal­colm Spell­man (“Em­pire’’) and Nichelle Tram­ble Spell­man (“The Good Wife’’), who are black writer-pro­duc­ers.

Reign tweeted Sun­day night that #NoCon­fed­er­ate rapidly shot to the top ranks of Twit­ter both na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. It didn’t take long for HBO to re­spond to the cam­paign that am­pli­fied ear­lier crit­i­cism of the pro­ject.

“We have great re­spect for the di­a­logue and con­cern be­ing ex­pressed around ‘Con­fed­er­ate,’’’ the chan­nel said in a state­ment. “We have faith that Nichelle, Dan, David and Mal­colm will ap­proach the sub­ject with care and sen­si­tiv­ity. The pro­ject is cur­rently in its in­fancy so we hope that peo­ple will re­serve judg­ment un­til there is some­thing to see.’’

In an­nounc­ing “Con­fed­er­ate’’ ear­lier this month, HBO de­scribed the story as fol­low­ing “a broad swath of char­ac­ters on both sides of the Ma­son-Dixon Demil­i­ta­rized Zone,’’ in­clud­ing free­dom fight­ers, politi­cians, abo­li­tion­ists and ex­ec­u­tives of a slave-hold­ing con­glom­er­ate.

A back­lash quickly fol­lowed, in­clud­ing from writer Rox­ane Gay (“Hunger,’’ ‘’Dif­fi­cult Women”). Her July 25 opin­ion piece for The New York Times car­ried the head­line, ‘’I Don’t Want to Watch Slav­ery Fan Fic­tion.”

“It is cu­ri­ous that time and again, when peo­ple cre­ate al­ter­nate his­to­ries, they are largely repli­cat­ing a his­tory we al­ready know, and in­ti­mately,’’ Gay wrote. “They are repli­cat­ing his­to­ries where white­ness thrives and peo­ple of colour re­main op­pressed.’’

Last week, HBO pro­gram­ming pres­i­dent Casey Bloys ac­knowl­edged mis­steps in how it an­nounced the drama se­ries but de­fended its value.

“File this un­der, ‘hind­sight is 20-20,’’’ Bloys told a TV crit­ics’ group. HBO was mis­guided in putting out a press re­lease in­stead of hav­ing the pro­duc­ers ex­plain the idea more fully in me­dia in­ter­views, he said.

The show won’t be “whips and plan­ta­tions,’’ Bloys said, but will draw a line be­tween Amer­ica to­day and its past as it tries to ad­vance the dis­cus­sion on race re­la­tions. The more pro­duc­ers can weigh in about why the pro­ject is im­por­tant, the more it will make sense, Bloys said.

But an in­ter­view the show’s creative team gave af­ter the ini­tial out­cry failed to stem the #NoCon­fed­er­ate cam­paign. In com­ments to the web­site Vul­ture, Nichelle Tram­ble Spell­man said that the drama isn’t go­ing to be “the big ‘Gone With the Wind’ man­sion.’’

“Con­fed­er­ate’’ isn’t ex­pected to start pro­duc­tion for at least a year, Bloys has said, not­ing that Be­nioff and Weiss are work­ing on the fi­nal sea­son of “Game of Thrones,’’ with the pre­miere date yet to be set­tled. The fan­tasy drama’s sev­enth and penul­ti­mate sea­son just be­gan show­ing.

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