I want to see “Confederate.” But even if I didn’t, I’d certainly want to see it get made.
“Confederate” is a new HBO series the creators of “Game of Thrones” are in the chrysalis phase of developing. The premise is that the South seceded from the United States in the 1860s. Now, the North and South exist as two nations separated by a “Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone,” and slavery is legal in the Confederacy.
The show would chronicle the events leading to the “Third American Civil War,” and the people involved, including freedom fighters, slave hunters, abolitionists, journalists, politicians and, in particular, the executives of a slave-owning corporation.
News reports suggest the busy creators, who will be up to their ink pens in “Game of Thrones” for at least a couple more years, haven’t gotten any further than this sketchy concept. And it’s clearly a risky intellectual venture. One can imagine a horrifying production. But it’s also easy to imagine a version that makes us look differently at the world around us, from institutional racism to corporate morality to policing to complicity.
But the people behind Twitter’s #NoConfederate campaign are trying to kill the show before it can be born. There’s a social media and publicity campaign to get HBO to back off the project before it has committed so much money and time that it must go through with the project.
The leader of the opposition is April Reign, a media activist with about 100,000 Twitter followers who is known for creating the viral #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. That’s not a bad calling card for an activist to boast. That movement led to at least the appearance of soul searching and quest for change in an industry that can be frustratingly white- and male-centric. But the biggest tragedy of Hollywood not being more open to blacks, Asians, Americans Indians and people with disabilities is that their stories don’t get told. So going from fighting that fight to trying to censor art before it can be created is a very different matter.
Speculative fiction is the ultimate arena for considering challenging new ideas and for challenging accepted ones. It’s an intellectual playground in which concepts and behaviors get punched and kicked and stretched and taken out of context to see how they stand up.
Much of the best thought on libertarianism, communal sensibilities and sexual mores comes to us in Robert A. Heinlein’s science fiction, from “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” to “Stranger in a Strange Land.”
Much of the best television drama about prejudice and repression comes to us in speculative fiction about horrendous treatment of the repressed, like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” in which women are enslaved as breeders, and “The Man in the High Castle,” a piece set decades after Nazi and Japanese victories in World War II.
And not every such universe features bad outcomes for minorities. In the movie “White Man’s Burden,” the relative power of races in America is flipped. In the book series “The Years of Rice and Salt,” the Black Death kills nearly all Europeans, and Asian and Muslim nations dominate history.
These are mind-expanding works for those who choose to experience them, and easily avoidable ones for those who don’t. Ideally, more such speculative fiction would be created by all kinds of people, testing a vast variety of ideas.
Boycotting companies that support expression people dislike is the consumer’s prerogative. But the increasing censorship we are seeing, in which activists try to block ideas they disagree with, is a mistake. And opposing the creation of art, on the assumptions you will be offended by it and others will garner no value from it, is even worse.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.