Opinion

Should 2 white guys write a race-based series? HBO says sure. Blacks disagree.

Craig Lindsey
Craig Lindsey newsobserver.com

After the blowback they received for that Ed Sheeran cameo in the season opener a few weeks ago, you would think the showrunners behind “Game of Thrones” would not want to infuriate any more people. But that’s just what David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are doing with their latest TV project, “Confederate.”

The show from Benioff and Weiss, the creators and executive producers of “Thrones,” is an alternate-timeline drama where basically the South won the Civil War and slavery is still very much a thing.

Even though an episode of this show has yet to be filmed (it will go into production after the eighth and final season of “Thrones,” many African-Americans have been upset with HBO green-lighting this project. Filmmaker and activist Bree Newsome told the Hollywood Reporter that she fears the show might erase what actually happened. “There has been so much deliberate mis-education around the Civil War, and this basically rewrites black history of the past 150 years,” she said. “We combat racism through educating people on history, so it’s dangerous to present alternative histories when people are still not clear on the facts.”

Last Sunday night, activist April Reign (the woman behind #OscarsSoWhite) launched the #NoConfederate campaign on Twitter, urging people to turn the hashtag into a trending topic during last week’s “Thrones” episode. “We believe the time to speak up is now, before the show has been written or cast,” she tweeted. Of course, #NoConfederate was a top trending topic. (HBO responded by saying they had “respect” for the “dialogue and concern,” but the show is still happening.)

It appears the bigger issue here is whether Benioff and Weiss, two white men, have the authority to oversee a race-based project. Even though Benioff and Weiss will be sharing writing duties with African-American husband-and-wife team Malcolm and Nichelle Tramble Spellman, black people still don’t trust that they can tell a respectful story. Author Roxane Gay tweeted, “It is exhausting to think of how many people at HBO said yes to letting two white men envision modern day slavery. And offensive.” She later wrote a New York Times column on the show, with the headline “I Don’t Want to Watch Slavery Fan Fiction.”

Chances are if you’re white and you want to tackle race, you’re usually gonna catch some heat from people of another race. Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow felt that heat for her latest movie, “Detroit,” which hit Triangle theaters this weekend. This fictionalized account of the 1967 Algiers Motel incident, where local police murdered three black civilians and beat and harassed several others, is indeed brutal and agonizing, certain to make audiences angry about the police brutality that still goes on in the African-American community. And even though it’s gotten raves from many critics, there have been negative, visceral responses from critics of color. In her two-star review for RogerEbert.com, Angelica Jade Bastien was blunt about what bothered her with the film: “Watching ‘Detroit’ I realized that I’m not interested in white perceptions of black pain.” She added that the movie was made by “white creatives who do not understand the weight of the images they hone in on with an unflinching gaze.”

Interestingly, Bastien cites Steven Spielberg’s 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” as an example of a white filmmaker successfully making a film about the black experience. But Bastien forgets “Purple” also had its African-American detractors upon release. The film’s Los Angeles premiere was picketed by the Coalition Against Black Exploitation, whose chairman, Legrand H. Gregg II, wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the movie was an “updated degradation of black people.” Syndicated columnist Tony Brown called the movie “the most racist depiction of black men since ‘Birth of a Nation’ and the most anti-black family film of the modern film era.”

The backlash for “Purple” has mellowed over time, but there’s still an innate urge among African-Americans to be leery of white people who want to create thought-provoking, black entertainment.

If black folk would prefer an alternate-history drama made by other black folk, Amazon announced last week that it has a new show, “Black America,” coming soon.

Created by movie producer Will Packer (“Girls Trip”) and “The Boondocks” creator Aaron McGruder, the show will be about freed African-Americans who secured Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama as reparations for slavery and created their own sovereign nation.

Reach Craig Lindsey: talkingfurniture@aol.com

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