CSA: Confederate States of America

CSA: Confederate States of America is a mockumentary that imagines an alternate history of what it would be like if the South had won the American Civil War.  The answer is that slavery would to this day be a way of life in this country, affecting every aspect of life as we know it. (The filmmaker said he was inspired to write this story after seeing an episode of the documentary “The Civil War” by Ken Burns.)  So the setting of this film is a fictitious, modern-day Confederate States of America (incorporating the former United States as well).  The film is presented as if we’re watching a fictional documentary about its history on TV, complete with fictional commercials between segments of the ‘documentary’, which provide much humor in their overt racism.  Racist ads aimed at white slave-owning families appear throughout this fictional documentary, including an ad for an electronic shackle for tracking runaway slaves.  Another ad is for a drug that promises to make uppity rebellious slaves docile and happy.  Other ads are for products such as Darkie Toothpaste, Niggerhair cigarettes, Sambo Axle Grease, and the Coon Chicken Inn.  One TV show advertised is called Runaway! — which is essentially ‘Cops’ after runaway slaves, with a twangy theme song.  A sitcom featuring Beulah is titled Leave It to Beulah.  Also shown is a slave auction held online, with the Internet replacing the traditional slave market.  This fictional documentary presented as if it were a British documentary being broadcast on Confederate network television includes significant political and cultural events of make-believe Confederate history from its founding until the early 2000s.  This viewpoint is used to satirize real-life American issues and events, and to shed light on the continuing existence of discrimination in American culture.  The ‘documentary’ portrays two fictional historians — Sherman Hoyle, a conservative Southerner, and Patricia Johnson, a black Canadian — as “talking heads” who provide commentary.  Also interviewed is a fictional Confederate politician and Democratic presidential candidate, John Ambrose Fauntroy V (the great-grandson of one of the men who supposedly helped to create the C.S.A.).  Throughout the ‘documentary’, narration explains faux historical newsreel footage, which is either enacted for this film, or made of genuine footage dubbed with fictional narration.  The movie is compelling in the way real historical events are overlaid with this new version of “history”.  The stock market still crashes us into the Great Depression, but re-instituting the slave trade brings us out of it.  Nazi Germany still invades Europe, but we’re on Hitler’s side because of shared racial attitudes.  But instead of Pearl Harbor occurring, we surprise-attack Japan in this version of history.  So much of this revised “history” will seem familiar, but with a twist.  One of the biggest outright changes is the supposed 1865 hunt and arrest of the deposed President Lincoln, who ends up exiled to Canada and later dies a forgotten embarrassment some 30 years after the so-called “War of Northern Aggression”.  A century later President Kennedy is assassinated, before he can finally enforce Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and try to free the slaves after 100 years.  Another big outright change is a so-called “Cold War with Canada”, which has refused to pay reparations to Slave owners for all the runaway slaves they provided safe harbor for in the decades since that so-called “War of Northern Aggression”.  During the 1950s, the C.S.A. erects a wall all along the length of our shared border with Canada that is called the “Cotton Curtain” (a lampoon of the Iron Curtain) to divide the C.S.A. from Canada.  Famous people who wound up fleeing to become Canadians?  Mark Twain, Susan B. Anthony, and Elvis Presley, among many others from this country.  The premise of the film is followed right up to modern times.  You’ll be surprised who ends up saying “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” and why he says it!  Being a white southerner, I can say that I truly understood the message of this movie.  I think that it probably describes accurately what our world could be like had the South won the war.  For me the movie was a bit disturbing, and my biggest concern is that some of those here in the South may feel this is how things should have been (I see far too many Confederate flags even today).  So being from the South and fairly “liberal”, I can confirm your suspicions: Yes, this is how it would have been. I grew up around elders who joked: “I have nothing against black people — everyone should own one.”  That is The South, then, and now. The racism has just slithered a bit lower underground, but it is still as ugly and shameful as it ever was.  This movie makes fun of that, and that’s why I like it. To my racist friends I would say, ‘Enjoy the movie — you’re the star!’  Also, I found the satirical humor of this movie to be exemplary.  Before the movie starts, comes a quote:  “If you’re going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh; otherwise they’ll kill you.”  — George Bernard Shaw.  Anyone watching this film will not only have moments of uninhibited laughter, but also periods of serious reflection about the creation of in-groups and out-groups in society, like whites versus blacks.  If you are an individual who can search for life lessons amid dark humor and caricature comedy, then this film will remind you how easy it is for a nation to justify inhumane ideas via confirmatory bias and political propaganda.  Much of the power of this film comes at the very end, when we learn that many of the fake commercials shown are from actual products that existed for much of the early 20th Century.  In addition to those examples in the film, the real “Sambo’s” restaurant chain finally closed in 1983 in response to belated public outcry.  So such institutional racism is dying out, but slowly – just ask those two long-time and still present-day marketing darkies Aunt Jemima (pancakes & syrup) or Uncle Ben (rice). This is a somewhat satirical film that really makes you go “Hmmmm.”  It’s definitely a movie that leaves you thinking about this historical alternative.  But, my greatest hope is that people will watch and feel utter disgust for slavery and be grateful the South did indeed lose the war.  (It may seem harmlessly funny until you realize the Confederacy was winning for the first half of the Civil War.  The South could have won the war in several ways and at various points, even late into the war.  The South was making a serious bid for English and French assistance and almost had it, but both were looking for proof that the South had a real chance to win and wanted to be sure they were backing the eventual winner.)  Every true Southerner can be proud of this movie.  The only thing missing was the text of the famous Gettysburg Address by the President of Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.  This came after the South won the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg, which ultimately resulted in the South winning the war.  As everyone knows, this famous speech begins with the now-iconic words:  “Four years ago, or so, our brothers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in slavery, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are not created equal.”  This stirring intro is followed by the few famous phrases familiar to every child in school, ending with these unforgettable words:  “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of slavery—and that government of white people, by white people, for white people, shall not perish from the earth.”  At the time, many who heard this famous Gettysburg Address were disappointed it ended after just two minutes.  President Jefferson Davis explained that it was supposed to be much longer, but he got writer’s cramp.  (Of the five known manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address, which differ in a number of details, this one was witnessed by Robert James Masters.)  While I have not seen many “mockumentaries”, I can confidently say that this will be a tough film to beat.  I loved this movie.  It is brilliantly made.  The witty sarcasm is genius.  Certainly worth seeing.  Watching this movie once is not enough.  The first time is for the revised historical record (which takes some getting used to), the second time is for the meaning.  Mockumentary 2004 PG-13 1hr29m.

A very interesting detailed summary of this fictional version of American history as seen in this mockumentary can be found on Wikipedia at the following webpage:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C.S.A.:_The_Confederate_States_of_America

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