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After Charlottesville, do we really need an HBO show that imagines the South won?

August 19, 2017 aurorax 0

In light of the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia after a white nationalist rally organized to protest the removal of a General Robert E. Lee statue, Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff — whose upcoming project Confederate, an alt-history exploring what America would look like if the South had won the Civil […]

‘Take My Wife’ needs a platform and fans are trying to save it

August 18, 2017 aurorax 0

After the streaming service that hosted the LGBTQ-positive show Take My Wife announced it would shut down, fans have been urging other platforms to take the show. Earlier in the month, Seeso, Comcast and NBC Universal’s streaming service, announced it would shut down later this year. For days, #TakeMyWife has been trending on Twitter. The […]

No Picture

Viewers say ‘Game of Thrones’ showrunners can’t be trusted with ‘Confederate’

July 31, 2017 aurorax 0

Audiences are protesting the series in which the South secedes and slavery lives.

David Benioff, left, and D.B Weiss accept the award for outstanding writing for a drama series for “Game of Thrones” at the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. CREDIT: Vince Bucci/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images

What if the Confederacy had won the Civil War?

For Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, this question conjures not a nightmare, but an opportunity: It is a premise they think is worthy of exploration in their next HBO drama. For the follow-up to their massively successful (and not uncontroversial) adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy epic, the two men—both of whom are white — announced their plans to dramatize an America in which the South successfully seceded from the Union, “giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution.” Woven into this narrative will be characters on either side of “the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone,” including “freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”

Backlash to the show’s unveiling was swift and explosive, so much so that Benioff and Weiss, along with executive producers and writers Malcolm and Nichelle Tremble Spellman, gave an interview to Vulture the day after the news went public, scrambling to respond to the outrage their press release sparked. April Reign, creator of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, coined #NoConfederate, rallying Twitter troops to use the hashtag during Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones to “send a message to HBO.” The time to be heard, she said, is now, “before the show has been written or cast” and before HBO has made a major financial investment. For most of the hourlong episode, #NoConfederate was the number one trending topic on Twitter in the United States, number two worldwide.

@HBO This Sunday at 9pm ET, during @GameOfThrones, we ask you to stand with us. We want to send a message to @hbo using hashtag #NoConfederate.

 — @ReignOfApril

Following the #NoConfederate campaign Sunday night, HBO issued a statement:

We have great respect for the dialogue and concern being expressed around Confederate. We have faith that [writers] Nichelle, Dan, David and Malcolm 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.

One wonders what Benioff, Weiss, and HBO executives expected the reaction to this announcement to be. Did they think they would be insulated from backlash by the presence of two black executive producers and writers, the husband-and-wife team of Malcolm Spellman (Empire) and Nichelle Tramble Spellman (The Good Wife)? Did they think the attention would trigger minimal backlash and ultimately serve as free promotion for the upcoming show? Or did they wildly misjudge how they, as showrunners, are perceived by the general public?

Benioff told Vulture that they anticipated the negative response — “We all knew it was coming in one form or another” — but it seems like any reasonable person who anticipated a nationwide campaign to have their show canceled before a single frame is shot would have recalibrated. Benioff later elaborated on the rough-draft-status of the project: “We haven’t written any scripts yet. We don’t have an outline yet. We don’t even have character names. So, everything is brand-new and nothing’s been written. I guess that’s what was a little bit surprising about some of the outrage. It’s just a little premature. You know, we might fuck it up. But we haven’t yet.”

“We haven’t yet” is an interesting choice of words for Benioff who, along with Weiss, has had ample opportunity to show audiences exactly what kind of storyteller he is. One could argue — as many of those calling for Confederate’s early cancellation have — that Benioff and Weiss have not proven they are the duo to be trusted with what Malcolm Spellman described as “weapons-grade material.”

give me the confidence of white showrunners telling hbo they wanna write slavery fanfic

 — @pilotbacon

Though insanely popular (it’s the highest-rated show on cable and even counts Barack Obama as a superfan), GoT has been controversial from the start. Viewers have long railed against, and quit the show over, its depictions of women — extras milling about naked for no apparent reason, central female characters raped on the regular — and sexual violence. The show’s myriad sexual assault scenes, the critique goes, are gratuitous, and shot in a way that suggests the encounters are erotic and not harrowing. In the case of Sansa Stark, whose wedding night rape scene sparked significant outrage, some viewers were disgusted that the framing of the scene emphasized a male character’s reaction to witnessing the assault, not Sansa’s experience being victimized. One violent sex scene between Cersei and Jaime Lannister, which critics described as rape, was not called as much by the episode’s male director Alex Graves, who said the assault was “consensual by the end.”

How does Game of Thrones portray of characters of color? The short answer is: Barely. This is a show with over 500 characters, and has only managed to find space in its massive universe for two named characters who aren’t white: Missandei and Grey Worm. (Khal Drogo, the only other significant character of color, died several seasons ago. Also, he was a rapist.) There are literally more dragons than there are black people on Game of Thrones.

Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) on “Game of Thrones.” CREDIT: HBO/Helen Sloan

Even if Confederate is a worthy enterprise — debatable, obviously — the critical response is that Benioff and Weiss have not proven themselves as capable of undertaking it. As Roxane Gay wrote in the New York Times, “I shudder to imagine the enslaved black body in their creative hands.”

Maybe, as Benioff and Weiss must believe in order to pursue this project, theirs is an intriguing premise. But, to quote Gay again, “as is often the case with interesting premises, at what cost?” A premise like this one is perhaps only a fun thought experiment if you are basically unaffected by the outcome. As Gay wrote, this “alternate” history is not so “alternate”:

We are still dealing with the vestiges of slavery in very tangible ways. Those vestiges are visible in incarceration rates for black people, a wildly segregated country, disparities in pay and mortality rates and the ever-precarious nature of black life in a world where it can often seem as if police officers take those lives with impunity…

It is curious that time and again, when people create alternate histories, they are largely replicating a history we already know, and intimately. They are replicating histories where whiteness thrives and people of color remain oppressed.

The backlash to Confederate is not about the concept alone, though as what ifs go, the one at the heart of Confederate is a dicey one at best. It appears to assume some simplistic opposites: Slavery was abolished, therefore, in this “alternate” history, slavery endures. But little about slavery is simple, from its inception to its abolition by law and beyond. Remnants of the Confederacy live on in statues, flags, and street names the nation over; when such monuments are toppled, it is rarely without resistance. As 13th, Ava Duvernay’s recent Oscar-winning documentary on mass incarceration methodically insists, the prison industrial complex is just slavery by another name, and it is thriving.

A scathing tour of the prison industrial complex in Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary ‘13th’

But if, to imagine another alternate history, Duvernay, or Shonda Rhimes, or John Ridley, or Gina Prince-Bythewood, or another trusted black storyteller were to announce a similar show, it’s possible that the response would have been a little less “hell no” and a little more “…well, let’s wait and see.” As far as audience faith goes, the presence of the Spellmans is clearly not enough to outweigh that of Benioff and Weiss. Benioff and Weiss’ argument thus far — essentially, don’t hate a show we haven’t even made yet — misses the point. For the #NoConfederate crowd, Benioff and Weiss are the issue. There is no version of Confederate with these two white men at the helm that will pass muster.

HBO has a reputation for allowing its showrunners tremendous creative freedom. This is both how you get something as riveting and out-there as the first season of True Detective and how you get something as abysmal and unwatchable as the second season of True Detective. It is also, it seems, how you get something like this: A half-baked idea that even HBO brass now admit wasn’t ready for prime time when it was announced.

While Benioff and Weiss are responsible for bringing Martin’s vision to the screen, this Confederate news is a useful reminder that GoT is just that: Martin’s vision. It is not Benioff and Weiss who are responsible for conjuring GoT’s sprawling universe, its cache of otherworldly creatures, its magic. Their task was not that of innovation, really, but translation.

Coming off the stunning critical and commercial success of GoT, combined with the freedom HBO tends to grant even its untested creators, Benioff and Weiss are in a rare, remarkable position in the entertainment industry: They can do whatever they want. It is telling that, called upon to come up with a series of their very own, Confederate was the best they could do. Given the extraordinary opportunity to tell any story about anyone or anything, their curiosity led them here: Imagining an America even more racist than the one in which we already live.

Research by Bell Thompson.

Viewers say ‘Game of Thrones’ showrunners can’t be trusted with ‘Confederate’ was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

No Picture

Emmy nods for dystopias: ‘Westworld,’ Gilead, and Washington, D.C.

July 13, 2017 aurorax 0

And don’t forget the Upside-Down!

While one could argue that the best drama and the best comedy of the year is unfolding live on cable news as you read this, Donald Trump Jr.’s collusion-palooza was somehow not nominated for an Emmy this morning.

Also out of the running this year was Game of Thrones—this year’s Emmy voting period landed between GoT seasons. With the reigning outstanding drama series winner for the past two years benched on a technicality, the categories usually monopolized by the massive cast and crew of the HBO powerhouse were blown as wide open as Oberyn Martell’s head.

So with ‘Game of Thrones’ out of the way…

It’s anybody’s guess who will take home outstanding drama series: Scrappy spin-off Better Call Saul, House of Cards, which is honestly so absurd it could qualify as a comedy, Westworld (was the whole first season basically an overlong pilot episode? Emmy voters don’t think so!), The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown, super-popular sobfest This is Us, or the sleeper hit of last summer, Stranger Things.

Welcome to the Emmys, Hulu

Hulu’s first successful go at a splashy prestige drama came this year with The Handmaid’s Tale, an all-too-timely adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic that essentially relies on the news cycle to provide a free, if chilling, ad campaign. Nominations went to critically-adored lead and Mad Men alum Elisabeth Moss (lead actress), Ann Dowd (supporting), Samira Wiley (also supporting), Alexis Bledel (guest actress), a handful of technical categories, and the biggie: Outstanding drama series. The streaming site has come quite a long way from last year, when it scored only two nominations, both in technical categories.

Handmaid’s costumes really are having a moment

In addition to being spotted at protests across the United States and around the world, the red capes and bonnets of The Handmaid’s Tale earned costume designer Ane Crabtree an Emmy nomination for outstanding period/fantasy costumes.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ designer loves seeing her costumes at protests

‘Saturday Night Live’ continues to enjoy its best year in ages

Not only is SNL raking in its highest ratings in over 20 years, but it’s also up for more Emmy hardware than any other series, save for HBO’s Westworld. The two tied at the top with 22 nominations across all categories.

In drama, look out for politics past, present, and dystopian future

Viola Davis is nominated for How to Get Away With Murder; when she won this category — outstanding lead actress in a drama series — for the same role in 2015, she became the first African American woman ever to achieve the honor. And Evan Rachel Wood is a contender for her turn as an android dreaming of humanity on Westworld. The other three nominees are all up for roles in political arenas (and, sometimes, landmines): Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II on The Crown, Keri Russell as a deep undercover Soviet spy on The Americans, and Robin Wright as sometime-FLOTUS, sometime-POTUS on House of Cards.

As for their male counterparts, the nominees are: Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan), Matthew Rhys (The Americans), Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us), Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us), and Anthony Hopkins (Westworld).

Good luck dethroning Julia Louis-Dreyfus

The Veep star has won in her category — outstanding lead actress in a comedy series — a stunning five times in a row, and is up yet again this year. A list of women who should probably start rehearsing their “no really, I’m so happy for you!” faces: Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie), Jane Fonda (Grace and Frankie), Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish), and Pamela Adlon (Better Things). A potential wild card, though, is Allison Janney, who won in outstanding supporting actress for her role on Mom last year and the year before and decided, this year, to submit herself as a lead.

Emmy voters aren’t holding Bill Maher’s use of the n-word against him

Or maybe they’d already cast their votes (deadline: June 26) by the time Maher announced he couldn’t work in the fields because “I’m a house n — r!” (episode airdate: June 9). Real Time with Bill Maher scored a nomination for outstanding variety talk series, where it faces some formidable competition from karaoke king James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel, and a trio of Daily Show alumni: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Speaking of the dominance of ‘Veep’

The winner of outstanding comedy series for the past two years is up again, against five-time winner Modern Family (which lost to Veep in 2015 and 2016), Silicon Valley, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Master of None, Black-ish, and Atlanta.

The best person to have sex with if you want an Emmy nomination: Hannah Horvath

Actually, you don’t have to have sex with her; just con her into touching your (prosthetic) penis! Both Riz Ahmed and Matthew Rhys earned nominations for their guest appearances on Girls’ farewell season.

On the stellar, surreal debut season of ‘Atlanta’

Critical smash ‘Atlanta’ lands its creator his first nomination

Donald Glover scooped up a nomination for starring in his FX series, which premiered last fall. He’s the only newcomer in a category that includes Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent), William H. Macy (Shameless), Anthony Anderson (Black-ish), Aziz Ansari (Master of None), and Zach Galifianakis (Baskets).

The 69th Emmy Awards will air live on CBS on September 17, hosted by Stephen Colbert.

Emmy nods for dystopias: ‘Westworld,’ Gilead, and Washington, D.C. was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.