2010-07-22

Another Movie You Probably Haven't Seen: The Confederate States of America

In my last post, I discussed a fairly overlooked film 'A Serious Man.'  Now, let me recommend another film you probably haven't seen, 'The Confederate States of America' (the link is to the film's website, which is a clever accompaniment).  I didn't see this film until last week, and it was released in 2006;  I had almost forgotten hearing of this film until it conveniently popped up on Netflix.  Is there anything better than instant video streaming of full length films?  This girl says "no."

The film is a mockumentary done in the style of Ken Burn's infamous 'Baseball' series by film maker Kevin Willmott, but instead of presenting history as it happened, Willmott paints a picture of the US if the Confederacy had won the civil war.  It's your basic History-channel format, with intercuts of talking heads alternating with 'archival footage' and even fake commercials.  Granted, the film has it's cheesy moments.  In one segment the experts being interviewed describe how the Confederacy never evolved artistically due to the oppressive atmosphere, and that modern day entertainment is like a patriotic Laurence Welk Show.  They do make up for it with a fake ad for a TV show called 'Runners,' a parody on 'Cops' featuring a blue grass band singing the 'Bad Boys' theme song, which may be the funniest moment, second only to a silent film depicting Abe Lincoln in black face.

In the end, the film does make a serious statement in two specific scenes (spoiler alert).  The first is footage following a modern day presidential hopeful whose lineage traces back to the very beginning of the Confederacy.  Journalists are tipped off by one of the family's slaves that the two groups have been intermingling for generations, with the lightest children sent to be raised in the house by the master, and the darker ones sent to the fields.  Immediately a press conference is called, and the candidate, a longtime proponent of the supremacy of the white race must be genetically tested to remain in the running.  In the following shot, we see police approach a parked car on an abandoned road containing his body, dead from a self inflicted gunshot between his eyes, as the voice over tells us the test results came back negative.  The accusation alone was enough to justify the suicide.

Shortly after, the only black person interviewed for the program, a woman from Canada, makes the point that although slavery has existed in many cultures and races, it is only the Confederacy that actively believes that the slave race is not a part of the human family.  They are sub-human animals.  The final message of the film is the legacy of that belief, how difficult it is to break the bonds of slavery because it goes further than just economic reasons, further than convenience.  It is a matter of personal pride for the master to have slaves.  In a society that dictates those slaves who want to be free are 'insane,' that they are by nature like children, need to be protected, even medicated if they develop a tendency to run, what chances do these people have?

That legacy is, unfortunately, a real one.  The maintenance of the status quo in 'The Confederate States of America' is just a postponement of the difficulty that comes with the dissolution of a way of life that has engaged an entire nation in a mass delusion that it is acceptable to judge another human being inferior by race alone.  Any other culture to do this has used genocide as a solution:  exterminate the unwanted things.  But the wound created by enslavement of them, by the use of them as if an object, is a legacy that, like it or not, is still a bleeding wound marring the US.  Healing will require people to recognize that this was not just an economic matter as history has rewritten it to be:  because it involved the exclusion of slaves from humanity, it is deeply personal.  Sure, the economics of states vs. federal government could be defaulted to as the central cause of the split in the US, but I think people choose this because it feels safe.  It's much easier to rationalize our ancestors waging war over the organization of power than it is to realize that was our Nazi Germany, American style.  I believe this scares people, and I also believe it is important that we accept the harm that was done in order to move further away from it.  Americans still exploit each other based on any reason they can come up with, and frequently without remorse.  Maybe the lingering denial is part of the reason why.

Check out the website for this film at:  www.csathemovie.com.  You can link to it from this page.  Trust me, it's worth it.

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