The debate over whether or not HBO should make Confederate—the alt-history show about an America in which slavery was never abolished being made by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss—isn’t going anywhere, as evidenced by the fact that the #NoConfederate hashtag still trends during Game of Thrones.
Just last week, Ta-Nehisi Coates weighed in with an eloquent essay in The Atlantic, where he wrote that ‘“Hollywood has likely done more than any other American institution to obstruct a truthful apprehension of the Civil War.” The piece went viral. Even Judd Apatow entered the fray by tweeting that the outcry is a form of “censorship,” and then clarified what he meant in another tweet that said judging something before we’ve seen it is “dangerous to all expression.”
If nothing else, Confederate—along with Amazon’s upcoming Black America, which imagines a world in which former slaves received their own country as a form of reparations—has reignited a long simmering debate in Hollywood about whether or not artists should only be allowed to tell stories based on their own life experiences or their skin color.
That question is at the center of a new piece from The Hollywood Reporter, in which creatives from all backgrounds weighed in. Master of None’s Nina Waithe, who wrote an episode about her own experiences as a gay black woman, said that she has no problem with two white men making Confederate “as long as it’s good, not exploitative and not ill-intentioned.“ (We should point out that Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman—both of whom are black—will executive produce alongside Weiss and Benioff.)
Waithe went on to explain that the best way for an artist to tell a story that might not align with their own personal history or experience would be to work with someone for whom it does, which is exactly what Aziz Ansari did for the Master of None episode "Ready Player One.” Though most of the show revolves around Ansari’s character Dev, this episode focused on Waithe’s character discovering her sexuality and coming out to her mom. Waithe wrote a thoughtful, touching and groundbreaking episode and in doing so, became the first black female writer to be nominated for an Emmy. Ansari deserves credit for leaning on Waithe for authenticity. Hopefully Weiss and Benioff—who will have the Spellmans by their sides—do the same.