Tuesday, 7 August 2012

C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the Confederate States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all white people, Amen"

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if the Southern States had won the American Civil War? Well, this film takes that idea and runs with it. C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America is a ninety minute feature masquerading as a History Channel type documentary, charting a fictionalised world in which the American Civil War was won by the South with the help of Britain and France. Delivered with a mixture of talking heads, re-enactments, readings, documentary footage (real and fake) and interspersed with infomercials, just like American television, the film charts the history of the C.S.A from its inception at the outbreak of war in 1861 to the present day.

What you get is a sometimes interesting but often uninspiring look at a fictionalised world which has a solid anti hate message at its heart. I’d wanted to see the film for months as the American Civil War is something that interests me but I won’t be recommending it to most people unless they have a particular interest in American history or social studies.

The film is produced in a 4:3 aspect ratio to give the appearance that it’s a television documentary. We are told at the beginning that what we are about to see is a previously banned British documentary about the C.S.A. and are read a disclaimer which tells us it may not be suitable for children or ‘servants’. I was a little confused in the first couple of minutes as I wasn’t expecting the film to be presented in this way and wasn’t sure which disclaimers were real. When I read ‘servants’ though it was obvious we were in the film.

What the film offers us is a glimpse into an alternate reality where slavery is still legal, Canada is a super power and the C.S.A is an isolationist nation with deep sympathies towards Nazism and slave shopping channels. Despite some of the more radical ideas put forward, everything joins together and there wasn’t one moment where I thought that an idea might have been a stretch of the imagination too far. We follow a linear timeline that includes the defeat of the Northern states in the ‘War of Northern Aggression’, the escape and subsequent capture of ‘Dishonest’ Abe Lincoln and the reintroduction of slavery to the North. From then onwards the film takes what feels like a natural and sometimes extreme progression when looking at what would have happened next. For me the best hypothesis was that the North’s great artists and thinkers moved to Canada to escape slavery and as tensions grew a cold war began between the North American powers which resulted in the ‘Cotton Curtain’ being erected at the border.

Another highlight was the racist commercials which pitched products such as ‘Niggerhair Cigerettes’ and ‘Darky Toothpaste’ to white slave owners. As well as being cheesy and incredibly racist I couldn’t believe the audacity of making up such overtly offensive products. The closing credits though contain a shock that is even more disgusting and outrageous. The film plays with pop culture and real life events, subtly altering them to fit with the fictionalised timeline. A 1955 film called I Married an Abolitionist is remarked upon. This is quite obviously a riff on the propaganda film I Married a Communist. Gone with the Wind becomes My Northern Wind , a tale of a northern soldier falling for a southern girl during the war. Famous faces get a mention and include Elvis Presley who is arrested for spreading ‘Nigger Rock ‘n’ Roll’ from Canada and eventually relocates north of the border. A fake film clip from silent film director D.W. Griffith, himself known for racial controversy with his film The Birth of a Nation, is shown which depicts the capture of Lincoln who is being helped by Harriet Tubman.   

A thread which runs through the film is that of the Fauntroy family, a fictional Southern political dynasty in the mould of the Kennedy’s who for five generations have been at the heart of C.S.A politics. The members are all played by Larry Peterson and while helping to beef up the run time add little to the film other than providing a political talking head. The side plot about his racial makeup felt a little underused and his appearances as Fauntroy V also seemed out of continuity. Another problem with the film is that despite the C.S.A’s supposed economic problems, coming in part due to worldwide sanctions it still managed to develop the atomic bomb and be the first nation on the moon. There are a lot of modern day inconsistencies with the made up history. At times it is also quite boring. Every few minutes I’d think to myself “ah so that’s what that would mean…” but often it only peaked my interest for a few seconds while the dots were being joined.

Where the film is successful is in its depictions of an intolerant and racist society which although stretching history a little bit, America came close to being. The film highlights the plight of not only black slaves but all non whites as well as women. As a parable for history the film is excellent and it can also be seen as a warning for the future. It is capped off by a shocking revelation during the credits and produces some interesting if sometimes flawed ideas.             

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