Movie News & Reviews

HBO’s new ‘Confederate’ series sounds eerily similar to film by KU’s Kevin Willmott

HBO’s newly announced Civil War-themed series from the producers of “Game of Thrones” might sound familiar to Kansas City-area film fans.

The premium cable network announced Wednesday that “Thrones” producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would be starting on “Confederate,” a series set in an alternate timeline where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, and slavery still exists south of the Mason-Dixon line.

That premise sounds similar to the plot of “C.S.A.: Confederate States of America,” a 2004 faux British documentary about an America where the South won the Civil War and slavery still exists. “C.S.A.” was written and directed by local filmmaker Kevin Willmott.

Willmott, when reached by text Thursday, told The Star, “All I can say is executive producer of my film, ‘C.S.A.: Confederate States of America,’ Spike Lee, and I will be speaking with our big time lawyer. No further comment.”

“C.S.A.” was a critical darling at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004, earning a deal from IFC Films, the same company that made a worldwide hit out of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” “C.S.A.” was shown in theaters in 2005, and Entertainment Weekly at the time gave it a full-page review and an “A-” rating, calling it “disturbingly hilarious.”

Willmott, who teaches at the University of Kansas, has made several films since “C.S.A.,” including the Wilt Chamberlain biopic “Jayhawkers” and the sci-fi “Destination: Planet Negro.” He wrote 2015’s “Chiraq,” a modern-day adaptation of “Lysistrata” that was directed by Lee. In 2016, Willmott was honored at the world science fiction convention MidAmeriCon II, held in Kansas City, for his contributions to speculative filmmaking.

HBO’s release said Benioff and Weiss’ project was years in the making.

“We have discussed ‘Confederate’ for years, originally as a concept for a feature film,” Benioff and Weiss say in HBO’s release. “But our experience on ‘Thrones’ has convinced us that no one provides a bigger, better storytelling canvas than HBO.”

THR reports Benioff and Weiss will write and serve as showrunners. Nichelle Tramble Spellman (“Justified,” “The Good Wife”) and Malcolm Spellman (“Empire”) also will be serving as writers and executive producers.

Some panned the announcement of “Confederate” as being a Civil War version of Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” (in which the Nazis won World War II). The sci-fi site io9 posted: “It’s difficult not to be more than a bit skeptical about a show (dreamt up by two white men) built around the premise that the South won the Civil War and has modernized slavery.” The Daily Beast’s Ira Madison III wrote, “all you really need to know is that (‘Confederate’) sounds stupid as hell.”

Social media was even less kind.

Actor David Harewood of the CW’s “Supergirl” tweeted, “Good luck finding black actors for this project.” NPR’s Linda Holmes tweeted, “This seems extraordinarily unwise.”

On Thursday, Weiss told New York magazine everyone involved is aware of the potential pitfalls.

“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,” Weiss said. “ ‘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.”

David Frese: 816-234-4463, @DavidFrese