Saturday, December 09, 2006

Cinema: The Confederate States of America

What if the South had won the Civil War? This is the premise of Kevin Wilmott's 'mockumentary', which is presented as a formerly censored work by a British media company that is being shown for the first time on American television. This conceit allows the filmmakers to insert racist ads promoting the likes of Sambo engine cleaner and Darky toothpaste. At the end of the film, we are told that these and other equally offensive products actually existed. The documentary relates the Confederacy's progress after the Civil War; how it expanded in Central and South America and how a cold war developed between it and Canada, instead of the Soviet Union. There are references to Kennedy's assassination and the red under the bed fear of the Fifties is replaced by the presence of clandestine abolitionists.
Backed by Spike Lee, I couldn't help feeling that this was a wholly pointless enterprise that did little to illuminate current race relations in America. The implications of a Confederate victory are so great and hard to 'map' imaginatively that this was probably always a doomed project. And the film-makers' greatest ire seems reserved for the above mentioned products. Surely it wouldn't have been more worthwhile to focus on what is happening now to African-Americans, a situation that sociologist Loic Wacquant has described as going from slavery to mass incarceration and sets out four 'peculiar institutions' (table above) under which they have been controlled. Much more chilling than racist cigarettes and restaurant chains.

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