HBO's 'Confederate' Uproar: Whites Shouldn't Tell Black Stories

"I'd have less of an issue with Confederate if we saw women, people of color or other orientations having shows on HBO or Showtime."

Where would we be these days if someone, somewhere weren't offended by something

Apparently white people shouldn't be telling "black stories" and that's the cause of the latest uproar over HBO and Amazon's Civil War drama series. The Hollywood Reporter summarizes:

Should white creators tell black stories? Top creators John Ridley, Glenn Mazzara and more weigh in on the controversial slavery drama from the 'Game Of Thrones' creators, Amazon's similarly-themed 'Black America' and whether it's "all fair in love and television writing."

HBO and Amazon's dueling Civil War alt-history dramas have brought an age-old debate about art back to the cultural forefront: Who is "allowed" to tell certain stories, particularly those about marginalized communities? The question is prompting frank conversations among those in the TV industry.

"It's all fair in love and television writing," says Master of None actor-writer Lena Waithe, "as long as it's good, not exploitative and not ill-intentioned."

The current conversation was sparked by HBO's July 19 announcement that its most successful showrunners, Game of Thrones' David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, would make Confederate, a drama that imagines a modern-day Confederacy with an intact slavery industry. Two weeks later, Amazon revealed the details of Black America, its long-in-the-works drama with producer Will Packer and Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder.

It's another contemporary-set drama that imagines a fictional nation 160 years after the Civil War, but with a different point of speculation: What if the formerly enslaved received reparations, in the form of their own sovereign state?

Whereas HBO's show has been besieged by a #NoConfederate campaign that continues to trend during Game of Thrones broadcasts, Black America hasn't felt such heat. But it would be a mistake to attribute the disparity to the racial makeup of the creative teams (Benioff and Weiss will serve as executive producers alongside Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman, who are black), says Packer, who notes that the original germ of his project's premise originated with Amazon content head Roy Price, who is white.

"It's not about whether somebody of a particular ethnicity can tell a story," Packer added. "Should you tell it? As a black filmmaker, I feel a responsibility to put forth images that counteract those that have historically been put forth, that there have been a dearth of, that are aspirational." Ridley added: 

On the other hand, the American Crime showrunner notes that the chance to write outside of one's experience rarely swings the other way. "The issue is that traditionally disenfranchised writers don't get the call to do space operas, suburban stories, something about Wall Street," he says. "I'd have less of an issue with Confederate if we saw women, people of color or other orientations having shot after shot at shows on HBO or Showtime. Where are those opportunities?"

For these talents, the reality of industry context is key. "I can understand when you have films like Straight Outta Compton or Hidden Figures [which were penned by white writers], people say, 'Where are the black writers?'" says Glen Mazzara, who next will show run Sony TV's The Dark Tower adaptation. "I would rather the story still be told, and what we need to do is continue telling these stories while getting young writers in the pipeline and investing in them so they can gain experience and the trust of the studios to move up and eventually create their own shows."

Precisely. We're not saying Hollywood isn't an insiders club, and that it might not be difficult for anyone outside the clique (regardless of that person's race, creed, gender or sexual orientation) to break through and have their scripts and productions given a fair shot. That said, in today's day and age, one would think that writers of color would be given credence if for no other reason that the industry's politically correct bent. 

Mazzara is right. What matters is that the story still be told. 

Issues