HBO announced on Thursday that the planned series Confederate is officially canceled.
The series was slated to be helmed by Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and had already received extensive criticism as "Slavery Fan Fiction." Despite Weiss and Benioff's best efforts to defend themselves from this response, everyone involved clearly lost the enthusiasm to see it through. Now we'll never know if the white guys who created such a tasteful depiction of the savage, dark-skinned Dothraki—and then basically murdered them all in a throw away moment in the trash-fire of season 8—would have handled the topic of slavery with the care and sensitivity it deserves.
Anyone even loosely engaged with culture could have predicted the criticism two white guys would invite by offering to tell a story about the South winning the Civil War—particularly at a time in our country when people are fighting over statues of Confederate "heroes" and particularly when it's two white guys whose sloppy approach to TV writing has so recently earned them universal disdain. But is the concept itself such a bad idea?
In the hands of a Nazi—or even a descendant of Nazis—an alt-history in which Germany wins WWII sounds deeply unpleasant, but there's a reason The Man in the High Castle makes for compelling material. It's not often that the course of history hangs so completely in the balance, determined by the outcome of one major conflict. And while the world has largely found ways to move forward from the bloodshed of the 1930s and 40s (despite the cyclic persistence of fascist ideology) in many ways the United States has never healed from the divide that nearly tore us apart in the 1860s—let alone the centuries of racialized chattel slavery that preceded it.
America is now more politically divided than it has been at any time since the Civil War. And while we continue to make movies that take place in that era—highlighting the horrors and inventing revenge fantasies—they haven't erased the idealized image of the antebellum South sold by Gone With the Wind, or the concerted effort to recast the slave states as noble underdogs fighting purely for the principle of "states rights." A responsible approach to an alt-history could explore the forms of oppression that American slavery pioneered, the subliminal ways in which many have persisted through failed reconstruction, sharecropping, Jim Crow laws, the carceral state, and recent attacks on voting rights.
If HBO were a little bit smarter, they would take the seed of this idea—which Weiss and Benioff should obviously never have touched—and give it to a black creator who could explore both the horrors of Confederate victory and the ways in which the South never truly lost. Maybe Roxane Gay could work on it—or N.K. Jemisin, or Jordan Peele, or all of the above. There's no shortage of people who could do the concept justice—basically anyone but Kanye…