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HBO on #NoConfederate Campaign: ‘We Hope People Will Reserve Judgment’

HBO’s new slavery-themed project “Confederate” has been the subject of controversy since the moment it was announced.

A grassroots campaign on Sunday got the hashtag #NoConfederate trending on Twitter. The campaign was organized by April Reign, the activist behind #OscarsSoWhite, to coordinate with the airing of “Game of Thrones.” By speaking out now, she said she hoped to prevent the production of the show before it gets written or cast.

The show reached the top of Twitter’s trending list in the U.S. and landed at No. 2 worldwide. Reign tells Variety that she’s pleased with the response to the social media efforts — so much so that she plans to organize a similar effort next Sunday. “The campaign is not going away,” she says. “What we wanted to say to HBO is that in the three days’ time we were able to mobilize and energize a group of people literally from around the world to register their objections to their show. If we can do that in three days’ time, just imagine what we can do over the course of a year.”

HBO responded to the latest outcry with a statement: “We have great respect for the dialogue and concern being expressed around ‘Confederate.’ We have faith that Nichelle, Dan, David and Malcolm will approach the subject with care and sensitivity. The project is currently in its infancy so we hope that people will reserve judgment until there is something to see.”

On July 19, HBO gave a series order to “Confederate,” which hails from “Game of Thrones” executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, along with Malcolm Spellman and Nichelle Tramble Spellman. The series 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.

Critics immediately challenged the project, questioning the wisdom of a project reviving slavery. In an interview with Vulture, the producers explained that their narrative isn’t a defense of slavery or an endorsement of white supremacist ideas. “This is not a world in which the entire country is enslaved,” he said. “Slavery is in one half of the country. And the North is the North… The imagery should be no whips and no plantations.”

HBO’s programming president Casey Bloys addressed the controversy during his presentation at the Television Critics Assn. press tour earlier this week. “Our mistake — HBO’s mistake, not the producers — was the idea that we would be able to announce an idea that is so sensitive and requires such care and thought on the part of the producers in a press release was misguided on our part,” he said.

He insisted the subject matter will be handled delicately. “The producers have said they’re not looking to do ‘Gone With the Wind’ 2017,” Bloys said. “It’s not whips and plantations. It’s what they imagine a modern day institution of slavery would look like.” And he urged viewers to withhold judgment until seeing the show. “All we can do is ask that people judge the final product of these artists and not what it could be or might be.”

 

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