Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Confederate States of America

Slave Shopping Network

When I was a boy of six or so, I remember excitedly reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln. It told a terrific story. There was a young man who worked hard, and gradually overcame obstacles until he eventually became president. And there was a war, too! The war had good guys and bad guys, and after a few years of struggle, the good guys won! It was a ripping yarn. I loved it.

The fuller context, unfortunately, is that I read this book by myself, a white boy growing up in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, in the 1960s. I don't remember if I had finished reading it before I was stunned to realize the obvious: we lost. We were the bad guys, the South, the entire white South that fought in the war. My little friend Lisa across the street was black, but I didn't know she was black. Sure, her skin color was coal black, but who would care about that? I loved her. (Thank goodness my mother never polluted my mind on this issue. It would have been so easy.)

We were all innocent once. I am glad I can remember at least a few moments of my innocence. I grew up, and over time, I came to a semi-coherent worldview on politics. Now I'm a progressive liberal, secular humanist, blah, blah, rah rah. Go, team. But for all the thought behind these positions, I'm a liberal because of that one searing moment: realizing that I personally could find myself aligned with a despicable, historic outrage.

Kevin Willmott is a professor of film studies in Kansas. He has made a new mock-documentary called CSA: The Confederate States of America. It depicts life in America as it might be now if the Confederate South had won the war back then. Slavery is the law of the land — across the continent. There are slave shopping networks where you can buy whole families on TV. Lincoln was shot and killed, in blackface, shortly after the Civil War ended. The entire history is told as if it were a BBC documentary, which covers the aftermath of the civil war, and our alliances with countries like Nazi Germany. It is interrupted by modern life: advertisements show high-quality shackles, Sambo-like cartoons, and restaurants you enter through huge grinning negro mouths. It is intended to be as funny as it is shocking. I will not see it until tomorrow, but it sounds fantastic.

If you live in the San Francisco bay area, you can see this at the Roxie this week. The details are here.

Here's NPR's On the Media segment on CSA, 8 minutes, RealMedia format, all audio. They interview the director and play short segments of the movie.

Here's the CSA movie web site, which also has schedules of cities where it will be showing. Obviously, it has been difficult to get a distributor for this movie.

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