Efforts to force HBO to cancel “Confederate” years before the series goes into production are not just misguided, they’re downright un-American.
“We believe the time to speak up is now before the show has been written or cast. Before @hbo invests too much money into #Confederate,” activist April Reign — one of the people behind the #OscarsSoWhite movement — wrote on Twitter.
Reign and her compatriots are trying to silence HBO and the “Confederate” producers because of what they fear the show will be. They are trying to decide what HBO can produce and what the rest of us can watch.
They want to be censors.
The fact is that we don’t know much about “Confederate.” HBO issued a news release noting that the show, from the producers of “Game of Thrones,” will be about “the events leading to the Third American Civil War. The series takes place in an alternate timeline, where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone — freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”
That sounds like a tough thing to pull off. I have my doubts. Serious doubts.
But the #NoConfederates crowd is arguing that “Confederate” will glorify slavery — facts not in evidence. They don’t know that. They can’t possibly know that.
The obvious analogy is Hulu’s much-praised “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which exists in an alternate reality in which religious zealots are in control and women are little more than — yes — slaves. But “Tale” in no way glorifies the subjugation of women; it is a commentary on the gender inequities that exist in the real world.
It’s possible that, once they’ve seen “Confederate,” its critics will be outraged. It’s equally possible that they’ll discover that, like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Confederate” will provoke debate focused on real-life racial inequities.
I supported the #OscarsSoWhite movement. I’ve written repeatedly about racial and gender inequities in Hollywood.
But Reign and her compatriots are creating their own facts and bullying HBO and the producers on social media.
This is behavior we’ve come to expect from Donald Trump.
Trump didn’t invent it, however. Way back in the summer of 1993, I was approached by a local group who wanted me to join their efforts to prevent ABC from airing “NYPD Blue.” I refused, of course, because (a) that’s not the job of a TV critic, and (b) they had not yet seen a single episode of “NYPD Blue.” And, while it was risqué for its time, it was nothing close to what those folks were alleging.
Don’t get me wrong. I support the right of anyone who wants to protest a show once they’ve seen it — even if I disagree with their take.
However, just as I will never review something I haven’t seen, I will always oppose efforts to pre-emptively censor a show.
If “Confederate” is as objectionable as its detractors fear, I will jump on their bandwagon. I won’t hold back. I never have.
But I refuse to pass judgment on something that hasn’t even been written, cast and produced yet.
That would be unfair. Intellectually dishonest.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.