Movie Review: CSA – Confederate States of America

In the guise of a faux documentary produced by the BBS (British Broadcasting Service), “CSA: Confederate States of America” presents an alternate history of the United States, speculating on what might have happened had the South won the Civil War.

On one level, “CSA” is a parody of Ken Burns‘ “The Civil War.” The counterfeiting of historical ephemera, as well as sendups of period television programs such as “Leave It to Beaulah,” is spot on. One of the funniest segments offers excerpts from the D.W. Griffith classic, “The Hunt for Dishonest Abe,” in which President Lincoln flees justice in blackface disguise.

The BBS documentary is aired with commercials that utilize slave imagery, most of which are based on real products from the post-slavery era, among them Sambo X-15 Motor Oil and The Coon Chicken Inn, a chain restaurant that remained open for business on Seattle’s Lake City Way until the mid-’50s.

Not since Spike Lee‘s “Bamboozled” has such an irreverent carnival of African American stereotypes been so irreverently sent up.

It is in this vision of an America that never abolished slavery that “CSA” is most successful. The alternate history is more problematic, mostly due to its adherence to the existing timeline of historical events. The country still enters into a war with Japan on Dec. 7, 1941, although in this version America launches the sneak attack. John Kennedy, an abolition-preaching Republican, still defeats Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential election, and is still assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Obviously, had such a cataclysmic upset as a Southern victory in the Civil War occurred, these events would not have occurred.

Less significant issues such as “Dixie” being the national anthem are nonetheless disconcerting. Since the song was written by a former slave, it would not exist had slavery not been abolished. More serious is the supposition that the genocide against the Indians would have been carried out by the Southern cavalry, when it was primarily a result of western expansion by the North.

“CSA” is best when inventing, not amending, history. The idea that Canada, by welcoming runaway slaves and pro-abolitionist refugees, would have become the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll while the culture of the United States would have been limited to government propaganda, is only one of many hilarious what-ifs offered by this often remarkable film.

On a peripheral note, the recurring  hoopla against the raising of the confederate flag needs to be retextualized. First, the slaves were kidnapped and sold to one percent of the Southern population under the flag of the United States of America, mostly by Northern slave traders. so if slavery is going to be an issue here, it should be the American Flag, not the confederate flag, that is abolished.  Second, the war against the Southern states began after the formation of the confederacy and succession from the Union.  Some of the southerners believed the Northern aggression was just, and defected to the North.  But most of them fought and died under the confederate flag, not to keep their slaves,  but to save or avenge their homes and families.

Although it is commonly believed the purpose of the war was to free the slaves, the war had been in progress for three years before Lincoln signed the Emancipation proclamation.  The war was a military action against the states that had succeeded from the Union and founded a new confederate government.  The war started two months after the formation of the confederacy, and one month after Lincoln took office as president. Although slavery  was one of the issues that led to the hostilities between the North and the South, it was not the deciding factor in the war.  In  fact, Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, proposed a thirteenth amendment that would protect the practice of slavery in those states that chose to practice it.

The Emancipation Proclamation was a declaration of war against all states or parts of states that Lincoln deemed to be in rebellion against the United  States. Its references to the freedom of slaves are parenthetical to the major intent of waging war against the south.  Lincoln’s immediate plans for the freed slaves are military induction and menial labor contracts, as is put quite succinctly in the following two paragraphs from Lincoln’s Proclamation:

“And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service”

The primary resistance of the slaveholder to the proclamation was the intent of the Northerners to reclaim the slaves they had sold to the Southerner, and to use them as cheap labor and cannon fodder in the North. We all know and agree that the ownership of another human being is vile and immoral.  Yet the Northern slave traders, in selling them to the Southerners, confirmed their persons as the private property of the buyer, and, as such, the buyer resisted the demand to return his personal property to the trader who sold this property to him.

The people who fly a confederate flag rather than the old red, white and blue are honoring their dead, who fought and died under that flag when attacked by the Northern armies.  They are not like the neo-Nazis who fly the swastika as a symbol of hate. 99% of them never owned slaves, but they lost a lot of relatives in the war.  The confederate flag is a reminder of their resistance against the North  in a war they never asked for and a war they lost.  As it is an accepted fact that the victors are the ones who write the history of the wars, the South is doomed to be forever demonized by the slave-trading hypocrites who made their cowardly attacks against the homes and persons of those poor Southerners worked the land with their own hands and never in their lives had a thing to do with slavery.

Next time you see a confederate flag flying a full mast, try to look beyond your own sordid history and ask yourself what the North Vietnamese would do to a South Vietnamese who dared fly his flag of lost freedom, the flag he fought under when under attack by the Northern armies. You know what would happen to that poor former who would dare raise such a flag.  He would be executed. Swiftly and without words.  Don’t let that happen here. Sure, there are racist lunatics who use the confederate flag as a symbol of hatred, but Officer Tim Loehmann who shot and killed Tamir Rice in Cleveland Ohio last year on the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination did not do so under a Southern banner. Over 75 unarmed people of color have been murdered by the police in the United States over the past five years – some in Southern states, some in Northern states.  The flag of hatred, the flag of racism, has fifty stars, not thirteen.

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3 thoughts on “Movie Review: CSA – Confederate States of America

  1. You are full of piss and vinegar today, Bill. Wow, what a rampage. I’m curious which book you read that helped you form your pro-south stance?

    The BBC mockumentary sounds interesting and I liked your review of it. The Civil War has always been a hotly debated topic. What caused the Civil War? The issue of slavery far outweighed Calhoun’s platform of states rights. As territories applied for statehood and were divided by convenient longitudinal lines that formed a geographic north and south, the Antebellum period was a sixty year period of arguments of attitudes and cultural differences between the two sides. Absolutely, the North made money off tariffs off the distribution of cotton. The North had technology, banks, industry, railroads–80 to 90 percent of the country’s economic wealth was in the north. The South’s economy depended exclusively on the institution of Slavery even though 3/4 of the population did not own a slave. The plantations that owned over 100 slaves supported the south. Southern cotton supplied 75 percent of the world’s cotton. That’s an industry that made the South and the North rich. Economically, no one wanted to see that end.

    I feel it is a mistake to under-estimate the power of the media. Now and then. Back then, abolitionists and Harriet B. Stowe used their newspapers and traveling groups and book to bring awareness to the plight of slaves and demonize the plantation owner who kept them in bondage to support an economic system. Compromise after compromise (Missouri,1850, Bleeding Kansas) marched the nation closer to war. We grew polarized over a long period with the central issue being slavery. State rights arguments to preserve their way of life meant preserving slavery. After many decades, no side–Europe–could no longer rationalize or ignore the immorality of the institution any longer.

    The South had better generals (I ♥ Robert E. Lee) and rebels and yanks fought with gusto and bravery and of course the veterans of the south deserve to be honored for bravery. I agree that most all didn’t care about slavery or have anything to do with it (like today Americans caring how and where their clothing and shoes are assembled) but fought to defend their family and land and state. The fact that the South held out for years against northern opponents who were better supplied with more numbers is a testament to their ability to defend their land.

    I worked in Virginia for seven years at 3 high schools before relocating to AZ. It was fascinating to see that the “Should we fly or not fly the rebel flag?” issue was quite a hot topic. In one northern VA high school, students were not allowed to fly the flag or wear rebel t-shirts because they were symbols of racism. Drive 90 minutes south into the heart of the state to Page County in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and not much has changed in 150 years. It was incredible. There, the flag waved broadly, a chapter of the KKK existed, and students lived in hollows and conducted chicken fights and drank moonshine. Some still didn’t have indoor plumbing nor could speak or write a sentence.

    In Virginia, roads, freeways, and high schools are named for southern generals. Are they not symbols of the south? It’s a contradiction. In Richmond there was an uproar over whether the rebel flag should fly at the capital building.

    Identity and cultural differences are a fascinating part of the social fabric of United States history. Thanks, Bill, for a thought-provoking post!

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  2. i’m not so much pro-south as anti-yankee. ive lived all over the country,and found the worst racism in boston and among northerners who had relocated to florida. i agree with all your points, although i believe slave ownership in the south to have been far less than 1/4 of the population. my point was to emphasize the culpability of the north in the slave trade, not to exonerate the south. But also todefend the right of the Southerner to raise any flag that they feel represents them and their history, and not for outsiders to tell the world what that flag represents. Ive read plenty of books on the confederacy and the civil war, including the autobiography of Jefferson Davis; and the Klansman by Thomas Dixon. Although both contained numerous fallacious statements, I enjoyed the points of view of the authors. Being a writer yourself, you know the importance of multiple points of view. Unfortunately, too many North Americans have a one-dimensional view of the South and southerners.In my life, I have had honest and meaningful relationships with only a few African Americans. In Seattle, there was Bob MacAfee, the guy who brought espresso to Seattle in the mid-70’s and hired me as his first barista..and Walter Zuber Armstrong, a jazz musician who hired me as his . manager when I was still in high school. In North Carolina, I championed the film maker Jamaa Fanaka , who was fighting Hollywood with a lawsuit accusing the studios of being in violation of the civil rights act of 1965…and was befriended by blues giant James Blood Ulmer,for whom I did some booking work. for the most part, I found that the average white Southerner was more socially integrated with the black Southerners, although the history of inequality was an ever-present hinderance, than were the black and white people up North, who interacted socially only in the cases where they were in the same economic class. Even then, there is a coldness between the races in the north and a warmth between them in the south, which i think may be due to the strength of the religious bonds between them. but having only lived in North Carolina and Tennessee, I cant speak for the situations in alabama, mississippi, and georgia. Finally, thank you, cindy , for sharing your ideas with me..

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  3. I’m a Yankee — I’ve lived in cold climates all my life (except a few years California) from Illinois, Wisconsin, and Maine. I regularly visited Vermont when I was working on my MFA. I love the East Coast from tip to tip. Seattle is a cool place, and if I moved again (most likely in ten years when I retire from teaching) I think, “Should I go to the NW or should I go to SC? Or back to the corn fields of Il? Maybe I should just defect and go to Belize.” Ha…Anyway, I am blessed to have seen and lived in a variety of living conditions from across the George Washington Bridge to the craggy nose of Maine. My point, I think snobbery and racism is in every state as well as wholesome, authentic people. You are welcome, I enjoy sharing thoughts with you. You are more opinionated than I, I suspect. I’m a waffler seeing both sides of any predicament.

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