Over the last few weeks, HBO has given viewers many reasons to be excited, but also one major disappointment. The good: new seasons of Insecure and Game of Thrones, as well as the announcement of an upcoming series based on award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor’s novel Who Fears Death. The bad: the announcement of the series Confederate.
Game of Thrones is in its second-to-last season, so HBO is looking for its next major hit. With Confederate being the next project for the Game of Thrones showrunners, HBO might think the series is just that.
The Next Project for the Game of Thrones Showrunners
Immediately after the announcement Confederate, the next project for Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the future HBO series came under fire. The backlash spread on social media like wildfire, with critiques focusing on the sci-fi alternate history show’s concept. Confederate will explore “an alternate timeline, where the southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution,” according to the show’s announcement on Medium.
That’s problem number one: slavery is a modern institution. It didn’t just evaporate after the Civil War ended. Slavery remains throughout the world, and the effects of slavery in the U.S. still echo profoundly today. According to the Global Slavery Index, in 2016 there was an estimated 45.8 million slaves in 167 countries.
Numerous prominent voices have spoken out about the series, including New York Times-best selling author Roxane Gay. In an op-ed about Confederate in the NYT she writes, “It is curious that time and again, when people create alternate histories, they are largely replicating a history we already know, and intimately. They are replicating histories where whiteness thrives and people of color remain oppressed.”
And while black TV writers Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman will work as writers and executive producers for the series, this does not revoke the concept’s problematic points.
In an interview with Vulture, Benioff, Weiss, Nichelle Spellman and Malcolm Spellman addressed some of the concerns about the show.
Vulture asked about the possibility that the show could be considered wish fulfillment for white supremacists, to which Malcolm Spellman said, “… So the idea that this would be pornography goes back to people imagining whips and plantations. What they need to be imagining is how fucked up things are today, and a story that allows us to now dramatize it in a more tangible matter.”
Instead of imagining how fucked up things are today, wouldn’t it make more sense to look at our current reality?
It is likely, given it’s an HBO series, that Confederate will come with the high quality HBO’s dramas are known for. It may have excellent cinematography and compelling storytelling. It may very well succeed on the ratings front. It may earn stellar reviews and achieve critical acclaim.
It may do all those things, but that won’t erase its problematic nature.
While it’s too early to pass judgment on the quality of Confederate as a series, Confederate as a concept is something I’m unhappy with. And so I hope Confederate isn’t HBO’s next ratings blockbuster, especially when there are two much better options up the network’s sleeve.
What does the phrase “the next Game of Thrones” mean?
This phrase doesn’t have a precise definition, but for the purpose of this post, it denotes an upcoming HBO sci-fi/fantasy series with a wide scope and epic proportions, full of varied characters and potential to be the ratings knockout that Game of Thrones is. It certainly doesn’t mean it has to be a fantasy series with Whitewalkers and dragons; after all, people have used the term to describe both the aforementioned Confederate and HBO’s sci-fi drama Westworld.
HBO’s Game of Thrones situation is similar to AMC’s The Walking Dead. Both shows have huge followings, and the networks are looking to emulate that success in future series.
What other series could be take the title?
Early on, Westworld was often called “the next Game of Thrones” with its massive sci-fi landscape and a variety of complex characters with widely different motives. And it still could be “the next Game of Thrones.” The series had more viewers than both Game of Thrones and AMC’s The Walking Dead in its first season, so if viewership continues to grow, it could become HBO’s next juggernaut series.
Westworld takes place in a massive amusement park of the same name, using advanced technology to populate the park with lifelike androids. The theme park’s patrons can essentially do whatever they want in the park, either exploring the landscape themselves or following along with some of the storylines created by the park. In the series, some of the lifelike androids begin to develop a sort of conscious awareness of their existence, and this is just the beginning of the plot’s complexity.
The series was nominated for numerous awards and landed on several “best new show” lists for its first season, and with the season’s ratings, it’s likely it will continue to grow. Westworld could easily be HBO’s “next Game of Thrones.”
But the recently announced Who Fears Death could take that title as well. Okorafor’s novel earned the 2011 World Fantasy Award and the 2010 Carl Brandon Kindred Award. It was also nominated for the 2011 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Novel.
Set in a postapocalyptic Sudan, the novel follows Onyesonwu, an Ewu, a half-breed, a child of rape. The dark-skinned Okeke face oppression from the light-skinned Nuru, but Ewus, with their sand-colored skin, face oppression from all. Onye’s name means “who fears death” in Igbo, an ancient language in the novel’s futuristic setting. Her journey begins when she discovers that a powerful sorcerer is planning her death; her magic is all that can save her. With some of her friends alongside her, Onye must search for understanding of herself and her power if she is to stop the sorcerer.
The novel has a wide scope, and the story gained further depth with Okorafor’s prequel The Book of Phoenix, giving the TV series ample storytelling potential. The series is set for a strong start with the combination of Okorafor’s incredible story, the high quality of HBO’s dramas, and having Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin as executive producer.
With the groundbreaking storytelling in both Westworld and Who Fears Death, either would be a much better option than Confederate to fill that “next Game of Thrones” title.
Of course, HBO also has five potential Game of Thrones spinoffs in development (though it’s likely only one would be picked up), so it would make even more sense for one of those to steal the title.