On July 19, 2017, HBO announced a new alternate-history series entitled Confederate produced by Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and written by Malcolm and Nichelle Spellman. The press release states that Confederate will focus on “an alternative timeline where the southern states have successfully seceded from the Union” and where “slavery remains legal and has evolved into modern institution.” Immediately, the news of the new series sparked conversation online with many speaking out against the show and having two white men at the helm. On July 30, April Reign, ReBecca Theodore, Shanelle Little, Lauren Warren, and Jamie Broadnax started the #NoConfederate social media campaign to take place during Game of Thrones. #NoConfederate trended during the show, and the conversations continued.
Speaking about #NoConfederate with CNN, Reign said, “The commodification of Black pain for the enjoyment of others must stop . . . Earlier this month, there were protests about taking down Confederate monuments. The prison industrial complex is bursting with Black and brown people, disproportionate to the crimes committed. So, for some, Confederate is not ‘alternate history,’ but a painful and recent reminder of how much further we still need to go for true equality in this country.”
The #Charlestonsyllabus compiled by Chad Williams, Kidada Williams, Keisha N. Blain, Melissa Morrone, Ryan P. Randall, and Cecily Walker after the horrendous events in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015 provides an extensive list of readings to facilitate discussions of “race, racial identities, global white supremacy and black resistance” both inside and outside of the classroom. The #Charlestonsyllabus arose out of a horrific tragedy where Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa Pickney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons Sr., Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson lost their lives at the hands of a white supremacist.
While Confederate exists as a fictional cultural production, its appearance can prove insidious to viewers and depending on what happens on screen, can perpetuate racist thought. This perpetuation maintains white supremacy and leads to real-world events like the events in Charleston. Speaking about Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts about Blacks in his Notes on the State of Virginia, David Walker in 1829 tells the readers of his Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, “See this, my brethren!! Do you believe that this assertion is swallowed by millions of the whites? Do you know that Mr. Jefferson was one of as great characters as ever lived among the whites? See his writings for the world, and public labours for the United States of America. Do you believe that the assertions of such a man, will pass away into oblivion unobserved by this people and the world? If you do you are much mistaken–See how the American people treat us–have we souls in our bodies?”
Walker saw the effects of Jefferson’s racist thought and the way that those ideas spread throughout the minds of all Americans. This is the same thing that happens with media and stereotypes. It is our purpose with this syllabus to create a reading list of articles, op-eds, literature, history books, and other media (films, television episodes, music) that will provide: accurate information and representations of Black life before the Civil War, after abolition, and during Reconstruction and the Nadir; an understanding of how the neo-Confederate narrative of slavery and its aftermath rose to prominence in the late 19th century; and illustrations of 20th and 21st century literary and cultural works that challenge such myths and help us better remember our histories.
Benioff and Weiss’s comment that the show will show a “modern slavery” is something that needs to be challenged, no matter what the show ends up being. Reign speaks about this when she mentions the Confederate monuments and the prison industrial complex. We also need to remember that sharecropping, the prison work system, and Jim Crow existed as new forms of slavery. In fact, Miss Jane Pittman in Ernest J. Gaines’s The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971) says, “It was slavery again,” when talking about life on Colonel Dye’s Plantation during the latter part of the nineteenth century.