The Confederate controversy has reached the highest levels at HBO. During this week’s Television Critics Association press tour, the network’s programming chief, Casey Bloys, found himself defending his decision to announce Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’s next project—which takes place in an America where slavery was never abolished—with a simple press release.
When asked why HBO even bothered making the announcement when the show hasn’t even entered pre-production, Bloys wasted no time falling on the sword. “I will file this under hindsight is 20/20,“ he said. If I could do it over again, our mistake—HBO’s mistake, not the producers of the series—was the idea that we’d be able to announce an idea that is so sensitive and would require such care and thought on the part of the producers in a press release was misguided on our part.”
Bloys said that if given a redo, he would have the show’s four producers, which in addition to Weiss and Benioff include Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman (both of whom are black), sit down with journalists for an interview similar to the one they gave to Vulture after the initial outcry.
The press release—which described Confederate as “a series that takes place in 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—was a glaringly strange way for HBO to make an announcement about something so sensitive. But what’s more baffling is how gravely the network’s top brass underestimated the nature and the volume of the backlash.
“We assumed there would be a response,” he said. “We assumed it would be controversial. We could have done a better job with the press rollout. We knew the idea would be controversial. I guess we thought it would be a little bit more standard, ‘Here’s the press release, what are the questions?” What we realized in retrospect is that people don’t have the benefit of the context or the conversation with the producers that we had.”
It’s hard to believe that a man like Bloys—someone’s who’s paid a lot of money to be intimately familiar with the cultural landscape from which he operates and in many ways influences—couldn’t have foreseen that a huge chunk of the population would take issue with two white men reimagining slavery for modern audiences. Maybe Bloys is right. Maybe if we had been given more context from the creator themselves, rather than a press release that almost felt flippant, the uproar would have been less intense. Or maybe that as a white Hollywood executive, he’s been conditioned to think that black stories are only stories about slaves, and that there’s nothing wrong with that.
We’re all for works of art that can shed light on complicated issues and histories, as long as they’re done with grace, care and nuance. The first chapter in Confederate’s story was handled with anything but.