"The Confederate States of America" – Review

The “Confederate States of America” is a fake Ken Burns-like documentary of the post-bellum history of an America where the South won the Civil War. The break in the space-time continuum occurs when Judah Benjamin actually manages to enlist the Western European powers on the side of the South. With their help the South routs the North. Abraham Lincoln is caught fleeing with Harriet Tubman disguised as a blackfaced performer and dies in obscurity and disgrace in Canada. The North is reconstructed by the reintroduction of slavery. The CSA conquers the American west and eventually develops a pax Americana over Latin America and institutes an apartheid system over its Latino subjects. The CSA restarts the slave trade to beat the Great Depression, deports its Jews (while allowing those on Long Island to remain in honor of Benjamin), becomes allies with Hitler’s Germany and stays neutral in the European theatre of WW II while fighting Japan. It enters into a Cold War with free Canada and erects the “Cotton Curtain” between the two countries. Slavery nearly ends in the 1960s and 70s following President Kennedy’s call for emancipation and the violence that follows his assassination, but the CSA maintains its slave-owning tradition throughout the 80s and 90s even as it grows isolated from the free world; its only ally being apartheid South Africa.

The film is meant to be a TV show produced in Britain that is being put on the CSA airwaves, despite its controversial view of slavery, by popular demand. It is interspersed with commercials for shows like “Runaway,” a parody of “Cops” in which police officers hunt down fleeing slaves, and another show featuring an avuncular white man dealing with the antics of a dumb black boy, which is a play on the reactionary Reagan era hooey “Diff’rent Strokes”. In addition, slaves are sold by chirpy blonde women on the Slave Shopping Network, and there are spots for “Coon Chicken” and “Black’s Toothpaste,” which promises a sparkling jigaboo smile.

CSA serves as a brilliant antidote to the popular “equal opportunity offender” humor prevalent in South Park and the smug antics of Carlos Mencia and Colin Quinn. Where these humorists attack the superficial stereotypical differences between peoples for cheap laughs CSA serves as an anti-joke. It removes the comforting Freudian purpose of racial humor and instead uses farce to force a conscientious viewer to confront the throbbing history of violence and subjugation that still breathes in contemporary America and defined racial slurs long before pseudo-intellectuals like Quinn used them as a foil for being a BS self-righteous anti-PC rebel.

CSA makes its explicit point on the continued prevalence of racism and slave imagery in the USA when it ends with the Twilight Zone-esque twist that many of the racist products in its ads were in fact real. Its implicit point is even more powerful. By focusing on representation – how historical events are communicated through art – it begs the viewer to consider the stories that every society must tell itself to make its own brutal history palatable. Despite the hokey low-budget acting it uses to supplement its stock footage CSA is a work of artistic genius on the highest level: it forces you to reconsider aspects of your existence that are ordinary and certain.