By Maurice Tracy
Even after reading the Vulture article in which showruners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss explained their reasoning behind the idea, I still can’t with their “the South won the war” fantasy show in the making. Not just “can’t” but “kant darling, I kant.”
Look, I don’t doubt that Benioff and Weiss are generally decent people, and I am not questioning their talent, but I do stand back and side-eye their whiteness. I do look at their track-record when it comes to race and slavery––one they can’t run away from no matter how hard they try to dodge the topic––and see it as suspect.
Sure, they may have been slightly hampered by the source material and therefore somewhat forced to have Danny fulfill the role of white savior, but the only Black man consistently on Game of Thrones is castrated and exists to serve his white queen. The only Black woman consistently on the show is there to translate for that queen––and even her role is sometimes taken from her when the white queen feels like taking it.
While Benioff and Weiss are hampered by the source material, Game of Thrones is still a fantasy. Thus the choices the show runners and storytellers have made suggest that while they can imagine a world in which dragons fly, the dead are resurrected, people can project their consciousness into animals and mentally travel through time, they could not imagine Black people, Asian people, and Latinx people in a fictional world being more than just slaves and background supporting players to white people and whiteness.
Benioff and Weiss’ track record with race sucks. Yet I, and others like me, are asked to simply trust them and HBO on this new endeavor. Why? Because wife and husband duo Nichelle Tramble Spellman (The Good Wife) and Malcolm Spellman (Empire) are on board? They want us to trust them because they’ve “got black aunties[,] black nephews, uncles. Black parents and black grandparents,” and they “deal with them every single day. [They] deal with the struggle every single day”?
You see, this is the thing: Unlike what the Vulture article suggests, some of us noticed very early on that there are Black people involved with the show, but that alone does not mean it is okay or a great idea.
I am not calling the Spellmans sellouts, but what I am saying is that while they may have no interest in being used as props to defend this show, in effect that is how it is playing out. Take the setup of the Vulture article, which opens with the Benioff and Weiss and then in the second paragraph mentions the Spellmans and their race:
“One thing left out — or minimized — in many of the critiques is the fact that while Benioff and Weiss will be the official showrunners and creators of the new show, HBO’s announcement also prominently noted the presence of two other writers/executive producers on Confederate, husband and wife Nichelle Tramble Spellman (The Good Wife) and Malcolm Spellman (Empire). The GoT duo noted in the press release that the Spellmans, who are black, would be their partners, not just part of the writing team.”
It is as if to say to those of us who are upset that two white guys with an ill track-record in regards to race are producing this “the South still rides high” alta-history show, “but Black people have cosigned it so it is okay.” It doesn’t really work like that.
Let’s be clear, throughout history there have been Black people who have cosigned bullshit for a multitude of reasons. Again, I am not calling the Spellmans sellouts but I am saying cosigning onto this series feels misguided.
Additionally, it is not comforting knowing the Spellmans’ involvement because of their own track-record with race, particularly when it comes to Malcolm Spellman’s Empire. (In full disclosure, I stopped and couldn’t with Empire after season 2––I mean I tried with season 3 because I love Taraji P. Henson, and Jussie Smollet used to be bae for me ever since he was Magnus in the The Skinny, but I just couldn’t. What I got in regards to race in those first two seasons was a lot, and very little of it was nuanced.)
Just as Nichelle Tramble Spellman understands critics concerns but wishes that “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,” I understand her desire for us to wait but I wish they had said “nah, no, pass, but if you wanna throw your privilege around and help, how about you take a look at this show Underground.”
I wish, after having to negotiate so much shit while watching Game of Thrones as a Black queer femme who has experienced sexual assault and harassment, that I didn’t have to somehow, someway also negotiate addressing knowing of this new series with my desire to finish one already pushing my limits.
I get this idea of wanting people to wait before judging something, but sometimes the reality is you have been there and done that and don’t really need to do it again. We have seen re-imaginings of slavery, we have seen ideas about “The South” winning the war, we have lived with the track-records of all these folks and basically we are like, nah, I wanna spare myself some pain and anger and keep my blood pressure in check.
I don’t want to really deal with the fact that two of these four people who will profit off of this idea of contemporary slavery are white, so yet again white people will make money of Black suffering and pain as spectacle. Because let’s be clear, there is no way to tell a story about slavery in America without spectacle, and there is no running from the history of Black suffering on film and TV.
Which begs the question, just who the fuck is this show for? When I read the following I have to wonder:
“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.” – Malcolm Spellman
“[It] goes without saying slavery is the worst thing that ever happened in American history. It’s our original sin as a nation. And history doesn’t disappear. That sin is still with us in many ways. Confederate, in all of our minds, will be an alternative-history show. It’s a science-fiction show. One of the strengths of science fiction is that it can show us how this history is still with us in a way no strictly realistic drama ever could, whether it were a historical drama or a contemporary drama. It’s an ugly and a painful history, but we all think this is a reason to talk about it, not a reason to run from it. And this feels like a potentially valuable way to talk about it.” – D.B. Weiss
Who are these people who don’t realize that history is still with us, that we live it and experience it every day? Surely not the majority of folks who look like me. I don’t really need a show to remind me how slavery has evolved. I am reminded when I get a phone call from my dad telling me not to leave my apartment because cops are looking for someone who drives a car like mine and he doesn’t want to become yet another Black parent on TV crying for justice for their son, a justice that will never come.
I am reminded when I go into a store in certain neighborhoods and notice security guards by the doors, some with what look like actual guns, to protect the merchandise. I am reminded when I sit back and realize I can’t think of a single Black friend of mine who hasn’t had at least one relative incarcerated at some moment in time.
I am reminded when I go to work and notice the health disparities between folks who look like me and folks who look like my colleagues in grad school. I am reminded by how often I see a cop car flashing its lights on the side of the road in a Black neighborhood, but in the “white” neighborhoods I have lived in, the cops ride on bikes and say hello and wave. You
I am reminded, even when I am sitting back on concrete steps, in a museum, listening to Samora Pinderhughes play the piano and sing. Even then I am reminded how much this history is not history but is actually the present because his song, his beautiful song, is a simple song asking that he make it home during his drive because “the stop lights can be murder, conversation can be murder, movements can be murder,” and living while Black in the US can be murder.
I am aware, and many people who look like me are aware. So, again, who are these people they are talking about? Who is this for? Cause, it surely ain’t for me.
Maurice Tracy is relatively young Blaqueer boi, a doctoral candidate at Saint Louis University, a son, a brother, and a friend. He has written for The Huffington Post, Mused Magazine Online, The Good Men Project, and XO Jane. He can be reached on Twitter and on Facebook.