I wanted to write an open letter to Benioff and Weiss, as that is one of my favorite ways of holding white celebrities’ feet to the fire when they do racially insensitive things (Hi Justin Timberlake!) I wanted to ask them why they thought it was a good idea for two white producers to run a show that would involve the inevitable glorification of a lightly-fictionalized slaveholding America. The optics alone are terrible, and that’s before we even consider what the culture on the set might be like.
I realized, though, that I couldn’t blame the two showrunners alone, as this specious idea had accomplices at the highest reaches of media. Someone at HBO heard about this idea and not only didn’t laugh in their faces, but gave this show the proverbial “greenlight.”
So rather than write a stern letter to Benioff and Weiss, I decided to imagine a fantasy world, wherein the white people with power understand why this was such a terrible idea.
I know. Crazy, right?
[Scene: A corner office in an elegant high-rise in midtown Manhattan. David Benioff and D. B. Weiss sit on a leather couch, drinking Pamplemousse flavored La Croix water out of orange cans. A fictional middle-aged HBO executive – let’s call him “Wokey McWokerson” – sits behind an enormous steel and glass desk, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a Brooklyn Nets hat.]
David Benioff: Look. We all know that, after Game of Thrones, we could have just retired.
DB Weiss: It was a great run, and the Game of Thrones money was no joke. In all honesty, we don’t have to do shit again. Like, ever.
David Benioff: But it’s time to change the TV game once more, and I really think that we are the guys to do it. We have a vision, and it’s just begging to jump out of us!
Executive Wokey McWokerson: Great! Let’s hear it! You made us so much money on Thrones, not to mention the Emmys and street cred. Our marketing department is chomping at the bit to get to work on whatever you guys have up your sleeves next. We love being in the “Benioff and Weiss” business.
Benioff: We love to hear that. So picture this: the South won the Civil War.
Executive Wokey: I’m gonna stop you right there. Say that again.
Weiss: Follow me for a minute. The new series takes place in a totally fictional America. The South won the Civil War. During the last century and a half, the Southern way of life has dominated the land that we call the United States. Slavery exists. Today. And people are still fighting over it, but there are real slaves, and slaveowners, and plantations.
Weiss: And there are also politicians who totally hate slavery, and abolitionists and stuff. Some people are still super pissed off about it.
Executive Wokey: Let me put this as plainly as I possibly can: Are you fucking out of your fucking minds?
Weiss and Benioff look at each other, confused
Weiss: No, man. That’s the idea. What’s the problem? It’s perfect for your network. There’s conflict. There’s oppression. It’s incredibly relevant to our contemporary discourse, just in a somewhat different setting. It has a lot of the same elements that made Thrones so successful.
Benioff: Let’s be clear. People are talking about race. Today. Constantly. In this country. This will be a real conversation starter.
Executive Wokey: You realize that both of you are White, right? And that viewers of color make up a disproportionate share of your audience, even though you have employed almost no black actors with speaking roles in seven seasons of one of the biggest series in television history. There are at least two hashtags whose sole purpose is to signify the people in the Black community who watch your show. Do you have any idea how your viewers would react to this?
Benioff: What does race have to do with this?
Weiss: Yeah, I mean, this isn’t really about race, per se. It’s about the erosion of the social contract. The way people use power against each other. It’s like Thrones, but in a lightly fictionalized contemporary America. Where slavery still exists.
Wokey stares at Weiss. Blinks twice. Says nothing.
Weiss: Look, if you insist on making this ALL about race, we can certainly play up that angle.
Benioff: Well actually, let’s be smart about this. The Civil War wasn’t ALL about slavery. It was about money and power and states’ rights and a whole bunch of other issues. Slavery was an important factor, but let’s not get hung up on the slavery part of this.
Executive Wokey: Get the fuck out of my office.
Benioff: Aren’t we being a little hasty here.
Executive Wokey: The fuck out. Now.
Weiss: We made you so much money.
Executive Wokey: I don’t care. Some things are more important than money.
Benioff and Weiss laugh hysterically
Benioff: Really? There are? You know we can just take this to CBS right?
Executive Wokey: Good luck. Make sure it has a white male lead. It will fit in perfectly with their nightly line-up.