Yesterday, HBO announced that it was re-teaming with Game Of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, plus writers Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman, for a new series called Confederate, set in a world where the Union failed to win the American Civil War, and Southern slavery was now a modern institution. Criticism of the premise—and especially Benioff and Weiss, for using their considerable post-Thrones clout to indulge in such a well-trod, potentially fraught series of hypotheticals—was both swift and passionate, with the pair accused of writing “slavery fanfic.”
Now, Weiss, Benioff, and the Spellmans have responded to the criticism, making it clear that they knew a backlash was coming, while simultaneously asking audiences to wait until the show premieres in order to judge it on its own merits. The quartet gave an interview about the controversy to Vulture earlier tonight, stating they’re now “bonding under fire.”
In the interview, Benioff and Weiss lay out the project’s origins—the same series of historical what-ifs that so frequently get the alternative history juices flowing—while Nichelle and Malcolm Spellman address the worst of the online responses. Responding to the concerns that have been raised about the project, Nichelle Spellman responded, “I do understand their concern. I wish their concern had been reserved to the night of the premiere, on HBO, on a Sunday night, when they watched and then they made a decision after they watched an hour of television as to whether or not we succeeded in what we set out to do. The concern is real. But I think that the four of us are very thoughtful, very serious, and not flip about what we are getting into in any way.” Malcolm Spellman—who dubbed the show’s subject matter “weapons grade material” in early conversations with Weiss and Benioff, and who pushed back against accusations that he and Nichelle, who are black, are “props”—added, “You cannot litigate this on Twitter… We’ve got black aunties. We’ve got black nephews, uncles. Black parents and black grandparents. We deal with them every single day. We deal with the struggle every single day. And people don’t have to get on board with what we’re doing based on a press release. But when they’re writing about us, and commenting about us, they should be mindful of the fact that there are no sell-outs involved in this show.“
The gist of the interview is, “Let us make the show before you judge it,” with all four writers promising that they didn’t enter conversations about such sensitive subjects as race and slavery in America lightly. (Interestingly, Benioff and Weiss breezed past their own record on race in Game Of Thrones, with Weiss simply saying, “We were very hyper aware of the difference between a show with a fictional history and a fictional world, and a show that’s an alternate history of this world. We plan, all of us I think, to approach Confederate in a much different spirit, by necessity, than we would approach a show named Game of Thrones.”)
The conversation’s final point hits on one of the harshest critiques of Confederate’s premise, that it’ll work as wish-fulfillment or slavery porn for white racists enthralled by the idea of the Confederacy triumphant. Malcolm Spellman responded to those questions by making it clear that he and his fellow writers are not unaware of slavery’s vast, lingering influence on America:
What people need to recognize is, and it makes me really want to get into the show: The shit is alive and real today. I think people have got to stop pretending that slavery was something that happened and went away. The shit is affecting people in the present day. And it’s easy for folks to hide from it, because sometimes you’re not able to map it out, especially with how insidious racism has become. But everyone knows that with Trump coming into power, a bunch of shit that had always been there got resurfaced. So the idea that this would be pornography goes back to people imagining whips and plantations. What they need to be imagining is how fucked up things are today, and a story that allows us to now dramatize it in a more tangible matter.
You can read the full interview over at Vulture.