Oof, it’s tough out there for a premium cable channel. Sure, HBO is still raking in more Emmy nominations than anyone else in the game (even if some of them make no sense coughBillMahercoughcough), but that doesn’t mean everything is all puppies and rainbows. Last year they had a high-profile flop with Vinyl, which couldn’t seem to make audiences care about the combination of sex, drugs, Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger. Though Westworld got people talking, it had to overcome a lot of delays just to make it to screens. Worst of all, HBO is facing the end of the Game of Thrones juggernaut, which has just one more season left after the current one ends.
And to top if all off, they botched the announcement of Confederate, a new show from GoT showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss as well as husband and wife writing duo Malcolm Spellman and Nichelle Tramble Spellman. The series explores an alternate history where the South successfully seceded from the North, leading to a modern age where slavery as an institution still exists and both sides are headed for a new Civil War. It turns out that a lot of people have some reservations about it. And they’d really like HBO to just NOT, ok?
Mobilizing under the hashtag #NoConfederate, people took their outcry to Twitter last night to protest during Game of Thrones and send the message that subscribers just don’t want to see a show that explores slavery in any timeline. And certainly not one from Benioff and Weiss, who have received their fair share of criticism for the handling of race on GoT, a series that has few people of color in lead roles and that literally featured a white savior character swooping in to free a bunch of slaves (not to mention the handling of rape and violence against women in the series). Rather than spend money on “Slavery Fan Fiction,” the protesters are urging HBO to focus their time and resources on bringing other programming to our living rooms. The campaign, organized by April Reign (the activist behind the #OscarsSoWhite movement), was a success: the hashtag became the No. 2 trending topic globally on Twitter last night, and No. 1 in the U.S. by the end of the GoT East Coast broadcast.
HBO heard the outcry, and responded with the biggest “just chill, bro” statement ever. After reiterating that they have great respect for the concerns being expressed around the series (they, like, totally get it you guys), they also reiterated the faith they have in the show’s writers to approach the topic with “care and sensitivity.” They went on to say, “The project is currently in its infancy so we hope that people will reserve judgment until there is something to see.”
And frankly, that makes sense. This is a project that is in development, to be aired sometime after GoT ends — maybe next year, maybe 2019, who knows. They have time to hammer out the nuance of the vision. And to be fair to HBO, it’s clear from their description of Conferate that the show is going to explore characters and view points from both sides of the Mason-Dixon, including the presumably very anti-slavery North.
And yet, the protesters also have some valid points:
Look, the Internet exists for people to get outraged and express that outrage. For people to form opinions based on very little information and then staunchly defend them. But it also exists to raise the level of social dialogue and expose the gaps in our own world views, helping us to better understand the experiences of those around us. Hopefully HBO is taking the time to seriously consider the concerns, and not waving it off as a bunch of angry randos getting high on the Tweets — or, worse, taking this much “buzz” and assuming it means that Confederate will have a huge viewership when it eventually does premiere. Is there room for a show to do a thoughtful exploration of these issues? Possibly. But at this point they had better be damn sure they’re going to stick the landing, because it doesn’t seem like viewers will be awfully forgiving this time around.