The announcement set off an instant backlash, and a mea culpa from HBO programming president Casey Bloys not for backing the proposal but for using a news release “to announce an idea that is so sensitive and requires such care and thought,” as The Washington Post’s Emily Yahr reported.
On Friday, five black women, led by April Reign, the online activist credited with the #OscarsSoWhite campaign highlighting the largely white field of Oscar nominees in 2015, promised a Twitter protest that would climb to No. 1 trending status during “Game of Thrones.”
Reign, who describes herself as “creator, agitator, facilitator, public speaker” and among the “top 15 of #BlackTwitter,” seemed to succeed, albeit with Reign herself being the chief tweeter and retweeter, this time under the hashtag #NoConfederate.
And she also drew out HBO once more by the end of the evening, essentially pleading for people to wait and see what the network produces, a response not well received.
“We don’t want to see no WHAT IF Slavery shows,” tweeted a woman identifying herself as Lela Victoria, “only facts . stop traumatizing black Americans.”
“#NoConfederate because the terror of white supremacy is a reality for POC. This shouldn’t even have to be a hashtags in 2017,” added a tweeter identifying himself as Jay Coles.
Some of the protest aimed at the fact that the showrunners are white men. (Two writers and executive producers on “Confederate,” Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman of “Empire” fame, are black, however.)
It’s “not simply an issue of history,” tweeted Bree Newsome, a filmmaker whose ancestors were slaves, and who is famous for removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State house grounds in 2015. “It’s also issue of the fantasy genre being largely limited to the fantasies of white men.”
Some of the commentary included, as Reign suggested, suggestions for “alt-history ideas” HBO should produce instead of “Confederate.” Among the suggestions:
“All the Spanish, Portuguese, French and British ships sink leaving folks to live out their own histories.”
“Columbus and other ‘founders’ get captured and assimilated. NA’s thrive and whites are in the minority everywhere.”
“We want to show HBO the power of social media of those who are against this show and demonstrate that there is a unified voice against ‘Confederate,’ Reign told the Los Angeles Times. “Our objective is for HBO to cancel this idea and spend no more money on it.”
“What confidence should we have in two gentlemen who can’t talk about race on their own show and have had seven seasons to introduce significant characters of color?” she said to The Hollywood Reporter.
Nicole Spellman had tried to deal with some of these issues in an earlier interview with Vulture.
What the show’s creators have been thinking, she said is:
… How we could draw parallels between what has been described as America’s original sin to present-day conversation. In this futuristic world, you could have this conversation in a straightforward manner without it being steeped in history: ‘What does this look like now.’ I think what was interesting to all of us was that we were going to handle this show, and handle the content of the show, without using typical antebellum imagery. This is not going to be, you know, the big Gone with the Wind mansion. This is present day, or close to present day, and how the world would have evolved if the South had been successful, seceding from the Union.
Her husband, Malcolm, told Vulture: “You cannot litigate this on Twitter. It’s not possible … but what people have to understand is, and we are obligated to repeat in every interview is: We’ve got black aunties. We’ve got black nephews, uncles.”
“People don’t have to get on board with what we’re doing based on a news release,” he said. “But when they’re writing about us, and commenting about us, they should be mindful of the fact that there are no sellouts involved in this show.”
HBO responded Sunday night, saying it had faith that the writers of “Confederate” “will approach the subject with care and sensitivity. The project is currently in its infancy so we hope that people will reserve judgment until there is something to see.”