Before HBO's Confederate, this film took on the same alt-history in a different way

Contributed by
Aug 21, 2017

One of the most talked-about pop culture stories of the past few weeks has been HBO's announcement of Confederate, a new drama series from Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss that imagines the Confederacy won the Civil War, leaving a world in which the institution of slavery still exists. While the idea of Benioff and Weiss tackling such an intriguing subject is intriguing to some fans, for others the idea of resurrecting slavery, even in fiction, was understandably problematic. The social media backlash to the idea of Confederate was swift and passionate, but HBO has so far stood by its decision to develop the series.

Despite the controversy, though, Confederate is not the first piece of fiction to tackle the subject of an enduring Confederacy. Harry Turtledove's Southern Victory series of novels is one such work, and another is a low-budget film written and directed by Kevin Willmott in 2004: C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America.

Taking the style of a "mockumentary," the film plays like an extended episode of Ken Burns' The Civil War, complete with "expert" interviews and doctored archival photographs. In the alternate timeline of C.S.A., the Confederacy wins the Battle of Gettysburg after British and French troops join their side of the fight (they're persuaded to support the South for economic reasons), driving the Union army back. Eventually Confederate troops march on Washington D.C. and take the capital, sending President Lincoln on the run and ending the war a year earlier that it did in real life.

With the nation securely under its control, the Confederacy seeks to expand its global reach with a Manifest Destiny-like desire to take over essentially the entire Western Hemisphere. Its racism extends beyond black slaves and eventually, for example, the nation attacks Japan in 1941 (instead of the real-life version of Pearl Harbor, which was the other way around) to combat fears of "yellow peril."

Willmott's film weaves an elaborate alternate timeline, incorporating real historical figures including John F. Kennedy, Adolf Hitler, and more into a story that posits what would have happened if a nation so economically driven by a racist institution rose to superpower status and was allowed to persist into the 20th century. The overall intention was to create a satirical look at ongoing discrimination in America, commenting on real-life issues (a border wall comes into play, for instance) through the lens of alternate history. It's a powerful effect, even if the film's low budget does show in places.

C.S.A: The Confederate States of America was posted to YouTube in its entirety a couple of years ago. Check it out if you're an alternate history buff, and see how it ultimately compares to HBO's own plans for a different result in the Civil War.