There seems to be many opponents and few supporters of the new series planned on HBO, Confederate. It’s easy to see why. This piece by Bree Newsome is a good example of what many think of the upcoming series:
In some ways, though, I think this piece can be an argument FOR the series, though it argues the opposite. That’s not just me being Devil’s Advocate. My belief is that science fiction has a way of presenting ideas in a way that gets people to think about them and think about them unlike any other form of fiction. From Star Trek to the Handmaid’s Tale, science fiction (especially on TV) has gotten people to think about ideas that they might normally avoid. Ideas that people might escape from in real life get in front of them when they escape into science fiction. Newsome cites a number of facts about the current suffering black Americans undergo now, facts that many white Americans would just as soon avoid or ignore. The series Confederate could be a forum to bring those ideas and facts to the foreground in a way news editorials or regular TV news cannot. The series could lead to changes in a way other media cannot.
That’s a potential pro for Confederate. I don’t believe it is enough of one. There are many alternative timelines that the producers of the show could have chosen: they seem to have chosen a terrible one. An alternative history that went in a utopian direction would have had issues of its own, but instead they seem to have gone with a dystopian vision. This is certain to cause more pain for black Americans now and likely encourage racists to interpret the series in a way to support their racism.
As artists, the makers of Confederate might argue that a dystopian view is the best way to emphasize the themes and ideas they want the show to carry. However, the makers of Confederate and HBO are in the entertainment business. Alot of money is going into the show, and no doubt they expect to make alot of money from it. To make all that money by causing pain and encouraging racists is wrong.
This is a key thing: big TV series, like big movies, are not just a forum for ideas. They are big business, and you can’t separate the two. I think artists should have a lot of freedom to present ideas, including ideas that cause suffering and including ideas that are wrong. But artists that make big films and TV shows are artists-capitalists. And that means they need to expect not just people debating their ideas, but people pushing back on their ability to make money from their ideas, including people organizing strikes and boycotts and promoting competition for your show.
HBO and the makers of Confederate have a choice: they can communicate that the show will have good ideas and that the artistry and intelligence of the show will be of a benefit, even if it is dystopian. Or they can just ignore the obvious problems they are causing and proceed. If they chose that route, they should expect to lose both the battle of ideas and the battle of the marketplace. Let’s hope they choose for the best.