HBO chose wisely

Two white guys, Benioff and Weiss, were the show-runners for Game of Thrones, and they made a total botch of the last season because they were in such a rush to move on to brand new exciting projects, which I can understand…GoT really went on forever, and the author of that series was slowly, interminably expanding the books to a point they’re getting kind of unreadable.

Unfortunately, the HBO show they were eager to do was Confederate, an alternate-history series in which they postulate a victorious Confederacy and the aftermath. The alt-right good ol’ boys were salivating over that, the rest of us were cringing, and everyone was wondering if the two guys who recklessly crashed HBO’s biggest cash cow had adequate sensitivity and nuance to handle that kind of story.

The answer is “no”. HBO has killed the project. Good.

I like these alternative alternative history suggestions, though.

This kind of story, even when well-meaning, is always just very meh, because in the end, we may live in a society in which slavery is illegal, but the ramifications of slavery are still ever present in modern life. Why not create an alternative universe where the Reformation was allowed to be tough on the South and allowed Black citizens to have more legal protections so they could govern themselves fully? Why not a story where chattel slavery never happened? Why do we need to bring up the Confederacy and open up a bag of worms that this country has never been comfortable enough to pick through?

Why hire a couple of hacks to do it no matter how good the idea is?


  1. garnetstar says

    The alternate histories PZ and @1 suggest sound great. But, HBO will never take them up with those two. Nor is HBO’s motive in turning down Confederate because it’s “controversial”, by which they mean, lots of depictions of the most vicious racism to attract the masses.

    They turned it down because the two hacks made such a huge mess, and obviously HBO agrees that they screwed up royally, and it’s not going to advance them anymore of their money to lose. Money is HBO’s only motive, and they’re not going to risk any more of it with people who succeeded in destroying their own reputations and becoming hated even by supremely once-adoring fans.

  2. says

    I like the alternate ideas. Maybe something like “what if the Roman tradition of slavery had persisted in Europe, so owning other white people was considered uncontroversial.”

  3. alkisvonidas says

    So, the implication here is what? That anyone who would adapt, say, The Man in the High Castle for tv would have to be a Nazi sympathizer? That any sci-fi or alternate history story that touches uncomfortable subjects should best be scrapped?

    Pretty sure there will be no engaging sci-fi left if we go that way.

  4. voidhawk says

    How about this:
    The Confederacy wins the Civil War, but the young country is physically and financially drained from the war. Slave communities use the opportunity to launch their own insurrection. It’s a long, bloody campaign which results in the CSA collapsing and an African-American nation emerges from the ashes. The series could follow the hardships that Liberia (as it would be established in America, not the West Coast of Africa) faced from Confederate rebels, an expansionist Mexica, and a USA determined to re-assert its authority following the civil war, as well as prejudice against Liberia in the Old World. With little support from Europe or its former colonies, Liberia seeks allies in Africa.

    That’s the world, but for the story, we could follow the life of one former slave leader who has become President of Liberia, following the political throes of their efforts to establish Liberia. Throughout the series, we get flashbacks to the Insurrectionary War to see the events and people who shaped them, as well as the former lieutenants and allies who both support them and have their own agendas.

  5. voidhawk says

    Sorry, it wouldn’t be Liberia, since that was already established.

    Hopefully it would be written by someone who actually knows what they’re talking about regarding Black History.

  6. microraptor says

    How about an alternate history where Lee was never reimagined as a kindly humanitarian?

  7. Morgane Guillemot says

    I would love someone to take up my favourite history left turn: What is Ben-Garion had said yes when Ho Chi Minh had asked him if he would like to set up the Jewish State in Vietnam.

    This is a thing that actually happened. He said no, of course, but what if?

  8. laurian says

    Already been done. From Wikipedia.

    C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America is a 2004 American mockumentary that is directed by Kevin Willmott.

  9. Zeppelin says

    I enjoyed the setup for The Years of Rice and Salt — the Black Death kills off 90% of Europe rather than 50% and European societies never recover, so the region ends up colonized by Arabs and Mongols. Then the book skips through various time periods of a hypothetical future where European colonialism and the genocide in the Americas never happened and people are fascinated by the lost society of Ferengistan. Of course a show with a setup where Europeans go practically extinct would give the “white genocide” people an anyeursym.

  10. says

    “Guns of the South” was an alternative history book about time travel where some South African white supremacists went back in time and brought automatic weapons for the Confederacy. It ended with the south winning the war but the white supremacists murdered Robert E Lee when they concluded he wasn’t sufficiently racist. Well then the confederates turned on the white supremacists who had to flee back to the future where the book ended.

    What I would have loved to have seen was that a follow up book would show that when the white supremacists returned to the present they found that racism was pretty much gone. Blacks and other minorities were fully assimilated.

    So they had really changed history after all, just not the way they hoped.

  11. says

    Can you do me a favor? Can you dial the drama, like, WAY down and read what people are actually writing? Thanks.

  12. whheydt says

    The best Civil War alternative I’ve ever read was written by–wait for it–WInston Churchill. The title was (if memory serves) “If Lee Had Lost at Gettysburg.” It is written as a “what if” from the perspective of a world in which the south won, trying to (from that perspective) construct our world as an alternate history.

  13. Pierce R. Butler says

    Steven Barnes wrote an interesting alternate-history in Lion’s Blood, in which Carthage conquered Rome and Africa dominated Europe and ended up colonizing the Americas (under the aegis of an Islam indistinguishable from today’s). I found it well-told by novelistic criteria (which means Barnes had to leave out most of the “what about…?” backstory questions that alt-histories always raise).

    He published at least one sequel, Zulu Heart, which I have so far failed to locate.

  14. unclefrogy says

    @4 there are uncomfortable subjects then there are uncomfortable subjects.

    glad to see that show canceled just what we need is another series about sex and violence with an improbable alternate history with white slave owners. That is what those guys do sex and violence
    uncle bufalo

  15. says

    “What if the South had won?”, “What if the Nazis had won?”, and “What if the rebels had lost the ARW?” are the three most common and clichéd AH plots in anglophone fiction.
    Possibly because that is about all the history most people know.

  16. dontlikeusernames says

    I’m surprised anyone watched beyond S4 (or thereabouts), so if you subjected yourself to any more… that’s on you.

    (Shadenfreude noted, though.)

  17. colinday says

    Shouldn’t that be Reconstruction (not the Reformation) being tough on the South?

  18. kobac says

    The best Civil War alternate history story I’ve ever read is “Bring The Jubilee” by Ward Moore. I would love to see a film or TV adaptation.

  19. lakitha tolbert says

    My biggest problem with AH stories and futuristic sci-fi (written by white people, specifically) is that they can’t ever seem to imagine PoC in roles where we aren’t servants to white people,or absent. Outside of Star Trek (I’m a huge fan!) they cannot ever seem to imagine an alternate history in which it’s Africa, or China, or Brazil, that is the greatest world power, Black people aren’t still slaves, or erased from the narrative entirely. And not just our presence but almost all of the culture we’ve created as well, the music, books, and language, is absent. (Not just us, but entire cultural institutions built by non whites are simply absent!) This was a problem I had with all old sci-fi, (naturally) and a lot of the new stuff too, like Bladerunner, and Ready Player One, where Bladerunner has Elvis but no rap music exists! RPO doesn’t acknowledge the existence of any popular media outside of what interested white men (although I do know a lot of them listened to rap music in the 80s, the movie mentions none of it. Michael Jackson gets a brief shoutout, but no New Wave, no Prince, not even brief shoutouts to tv shows that maybe little girls loved in the 80s.) Dont get me wrong, I understand why it’s like that, but I still don’t like it.

    I still love sci-fi, and Speculative Fiction, but it’s disturbing for an entire race of people, for entire contributing cultures even, to be entirely absent from stories about the future, as envisioned by white men. It definitely provokes some disturbing questions,like where are they, and what happened to them.

    PoC protested vehemently against the idea of this show. We just knew these two hack writers would do little more than create Slavefic/Torture porn, as evidenced by how they treated the PoC in Game of Thrones, and that’s the last thing we need right now. I’m glad to hear the whole thing has been dropped. I do not have a problem with stories set during the era of slavery, but I’m convinced that white men do not know how to sensitively write of it, certainly not these two, and I only say that because they really haven’t done any good at it before, and I have no confidence that has changed.

    Also a lot of Black People are just tired of those kinds of stories unless there’s a really good spin on it, like zombies, or something, or it’s actually being written by black people.

  20. Steve Caldwell says

    This example is not strictly an alternative history story and it’s more comic book than serious science fiction.

    The “Legends of Tomorrow” series episode “Abominations” from a few years back had the series band of time-traveling heroes going to the American South during the Civil War to stop a zombie disease outbreak that is spreading within the Confederate Army.

    Near the end of the episode, the white slave owner and his black slaves are surrounded in the plantation house by Confederate zombies that will not die. When this happens, the slave owner refuses to share power with the black slaves and is consumed by a mindless horde of Confederate zombies.

    And that’s pretty much a metaphor for modern-day politics in the American South.