In light of the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia after a white nationalist rally organized to protest the removal of a General Robert E. Lee statue, Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff — whose upcoming project Confederate, an alt-history exploring what America would look like if the South had won the Civil War, has sparked considerable controversy — released separate and thoughtful statements in response to recent news events.
“Let’s keep the battles and bloodshed over fallen generals to the fantasy shows. Be safe America,” Weiss tweeted. A few hours later, Benioff added: “We are saddened by what’s transpired and as artists we are going to take these recent events into consideration as we move forward with Confederate.”
The pair later clarified their tweets in an interview with Vulture. “Let me be clear: what happened on Saturday couldn’t be further from what we are envisioning for our project,” Benioff said. “We want our show to encourage the heroes of today, not empathize with the villains of our past.”
These sentiments are bold, thoughtful, and unfortunately completely invented.
In reality, Weiss and Benioff — who don’t actually have Twitter accounts — have been noticeably silent in the wake of the Charlottesville protests. The two showrunners haven’t taken any steps to address how recent news developments might influence their upcoming project, which got a lot of pushback even before the events of last weekend.
“It’s at their own risk that they’re being so silent,” Jamie Broadnax, editor-in-chief of the pop culture website Black Girl Nerds and one of the critics leading the #NoConfederate hashtag that has caught on like wildfire, said in an interview with ThinkProgress.
Before neo-Nazis invaded Charlottesville, Weiss told Vulture, “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.” The irony in that now is astounding. Perhaps a realistic drama couldn’t scratch the surface, but reality certainly did.
“A lot of the storyline that their show, so far as what’s been reported — this alternate history of what the South would have looked like if it won — we’re seeing play out right before our eyes,” Broadnax said. “People have been joking on social media, but it’s really the truth, that we’ve already seen episode one of Confederate.”
HBO itself has only tepidly weighed in, releasing a statement to the New York Times on Monday that reiterated its support of the project.
“We support everybody’s right to express an opinion but the suggestion of irresponsibility on our part is simply undeserved,” the network said. “HBO has a long history of championing intelligent storytelling and we will approach this project with the same level of thoughtfulness that has always defined our programming. We recognize the sensitivity of this project and will treat it with the respect that it deserves. Our creative partners should be given time to develop the series rather than face prejudgment.”
Representatives from HBO did not respond to ThinkProgress’ repeated requests for comment for this story.
After Trump missed an opportunity to unite the nation and denounce white supremacy, neo-Nazis, bigots, and well, the Confederacy once and for all, critics of the upcoming show are starting to feel like HBO and the Confederate showrunners might be missing theirs, too.
“The statement they issued on Monday was just ‘yeah we know, we know… but my idea!’ It’s really vexing to me,” Lauren Warren a, Toronto-based screenwriter who is also helping drive the hashtag campaign, told ThinkProgress. She added that although HBO has maintained the network shouldn’t be labeled “irresponsible,” it seems like “a fitting label” to her at this point.
The pushback to the show isn’t just coming in the form of quippy misspelled tweets. Mounting criticism has come in the way of eloquent pieces by the likes of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay, as well as the #NoConfederare campaign, led by five different social media activists. Particularly after the tragic events that unfolded in Charlottesville, one would hope HBO and its writers might start engaging in the discussion.
“In fairness, I don’t think they know what to say at this point,” Shanelle Little, who works in marketing in Southern California and is the driving force behind #NoConfederate, told ThinkProgress.
Little was first inspired to take action after thinking long and hard about the implications of a show that, from the sounds of it, could possibly drudge up mixed opinions about how our nation’s Civil War actually ended.
“I started to think about Comic Con and trying to walk into Comic Con where there’s Confederate flags everywhere — slave cosplay. It’s all fun and games when it’s zombies,” she said. “The Confederacy killed a lot of people. 15 million slaves died in this country. Do I really want to see that a part of the culture of fandom?”
So Little reached out to Warren, Broadnax, April Reign (of #OscarsSoWhite fame), along with entertainment writer ReBecca Theodore-Vachon, to devise a plan. Together the group brainstormed #NoConfederate and planned to start tweeting during Sunday airings of Game of Thrones.
“It’s to bring awareness,” Warren said in reference to the ongoing hashtag campaign. “We don’t need a Confederate television show when it’s playing out in real life. It’s in no way trying to impede anyone. This is to make people aware that this is not a responsible story to tell given the current sociopolitical climate.”
That’s even clearer this week, now that the country has watched violence erupt in Charlottesville and the president defend Confederate monuments as “very important.”
It’s disconcerting that this team has yet to offer any formal statement on the recent news events considering the timeline. Shortly after they announced their plans to resurrect the Confederacy in their next project, the Confederacy reared its ugly head in plain sight. Now, it feels as though they’ve ghosted the conversation.
But social media isn’t letting them off the hook that easy.
This Confederate pilot is exactly what I imagined it would be.
— roxane gay (@rgay) August 12, 2017
HBO: "What if the South had won the Civil War?"
Black people: pic.twitter.com/qCQq3tDAen
— Awad (@AwDaniel23) August 12, 2017
— Kasai™ (@Kahsai) August 12, 2017
— Dahlia G-H (@salvadordahlia) August 12, 2017
The #NoConfederate team plans to continue infiltrating Game of Thrones live tweets on Sunday evenings until they’re heard. Plans to do more are not set in stone. But there are rumblings of a petition against the show (concerning what is still unknown) in the works and other communities getting involved.
“I’m asking them to make a smart business decision here,” Little said. “I didn’t live through watching Bree Newsome climb a flagpole to take down the flag, just to see HBO throw it back up.”
All things considered, perhaps it’s for the best that neither Weiss or Benioff is active on social media. Can you imagine their mentions right now?