GAME OF THRONES

Cre­ators be­hind 'Game of Thrones' stir race con­tro­versy with 'Con­fed­er­ate'

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

What if the South had won the Amer­i­can Civil War? That is the premise be­hind a newly an­nounced show on ca­ble net­work HBO that has sparked a heated back­lash in a coun­try still grap­pling with the legacy of slav­ery and its gen­er­a­tional im­pacts on African Amer­i­cans. Un­veiled in mid-July, "Con­fed­er­ate" will be led by "Game of Thrones" cre­ators David Be­nioff and D.B. Weiss, no strangers to crit­i­cism over the over­whelm­ingly white cast in their epic fan­tasy se­ries that is cur­rently in its sev­enth sea­son. It takes place in a world where South­ern states suc­cess­fully se­ceded dur­ing the Civil War (1861-65) and slav­ery con­tin­ues to be prac­ticed, as the Con­fed­er­ate States of Amer­ica gears up for a fresh war against the Union.

Ex­cept it's pro­gres­sives who are up in arms. "The same guys who have gra­tu­itous de­pic­tions of rape & no sig­nif­i­cant POC char­ac­ters are go­ing to han­dle the en­slave­ment of Blacks w/ nu­ance," tweeted ac­tivist April Reign, who cre­ated the #Os­carsSoWhite hash­tag to protest the lack of di­ver­sity among the 2016 Os­car nom­i­nees. Wess and Be­nioff are work­ing with hus­band-and-wife ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers Mal­colm Spell­man and Nichelle Tram­ble Spell­man (known for "Em­pire" and "The Good Wife," re­spec­tively), who are them­selves black and have vig­or­ously de­fended the project that is set to air in 2018 or 2019. That hasn't de­terred a so­cial me­dia cam­paign aimed at can­cel­ing the show, with the hash­tag #NoCon­fed­er­ate be­com­ing the top trend on Twit­ter dur­ing Sun­day night's broad­cast of the third episode of "Game of Thrones."

Ques­tioned by a Twit­ter user on whether he could see him­self tak­ing a role in the se­ries, black ac­tor Don Chea­dle replied: "Would de­pend on the part. As al­ways. But I'm beyond skep­ti­cal about the project in gen­eral." Stephane Dunn, a pro­fes­sor at More­house Col­lege, ques­tioned the premise "given the fact that we still live in a so­ci­ety that still has a white su­prem­a­cist ori­en­ta­tion rooted in it­self. "And there's the other ques­tion: is it go­ing to be so re­vi­sion­ist that we don't rec­og­nize the Amer­i­can slav­ery. There might be a sort of... glam­or­iza­tion un­in­ten­tion­ally or not," she added.

Asked to com­ment on the con­tro­versy, HBO emailed a state­ment to AFP that in­di­cated they had no in­ten­tion of can­cel­ing the show. "We have great re­spect for the di­a­logue and con­cern be­ing ex­pressed around 'Con­fed­er­ate,'" the chan­nel said. "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." Al­ter­nate his­tory se­ries have en­joyed con­sid­er­able crit­i­cal suc­cess in re­cent years, in­clud­ing most notably Hulu's "The Hand­maid's Tale" but also "The Man in the High Cas­tle" on Ama­zon and the BBC's "SS-GB."

The last two, which imag­ined the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tions of the United States and Great Bri­tain re­spec­tively, did not pro­voke wide­spread out­rage among Jews. For crit­ics of "Con­fed­er­ate," the ques­tion of who gets to tell the story-both in front of the cam­era and be­hind it-is just as im­por­tant as the tele­vised por­trayal of slav­ery. Sim­i­lar con­tro­versy arose around the movie "Detroit," which evokes the city's ri­ots in 1967 and the re­pres­sion that tar­geted the black com­mu­nity, as the direc­tor and the en­tire pro­duc­tion team are white. Artist and ac­tivist Bree New­some said the op­po­si­tion to the show "is not sim­ply issue of his­tory, it's also issue of the fan­tasy genre be­ing largely lim­ited to the fan­tasies of white men."

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