HBO responds to #NoConfederate controversy: ‘We hope that people will reserve judgment’

Two weeks ago, Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss announced they were making an alternative history drama called Confederate, about an America where slavery still exists. Also working on the show are producers Nichelle Tramble Spellman (The Good Wife) and Malcolm Spellman (Empire). The internet immediately deemed this a terrible idea, with a wave of negative comments, followed by a Twitter campaign built around the hashtag #NoConfederate. Benioff and Weiss’ defense has been that the show isn’t out yet, so the verdict shouldn’t be either.

They acknowledged in an interview with Vulture that they’re dealing with weapons-grade controversial material here. And there’s a reason viewers don’t trust the idea: Benioff and Weiss are both white, and they don’t have the best track record of depicting race on Game of Thrones. On that show, most people of color are slaves or slavers. The show’s history of graphically depicted sexual assault has also been controversial. As critics have pointed out, sexual attacks on slaves were frequent and institutional, which raises concerns about Confederate sexualizing slavery and power in the same way Game of Thrones does. Both the race problem and the sex problem are built into George R.R. Martin’s source novels, but Benioff and Weiss’ show has fetishized violence and coercion, even past the books’ level.

A problematic scene from Game of Thrones where Daenerys is presented as the savior of some of the only people of color on the show.

After Twitter’s #NoConfederate rally on Sunday night during Game of Thrones, HBO released a statement, saying, “We have great respect for the dialogue and concern being expressed around Confederate. We have faith that [writers] Nichelle, Dan, David and Malcolm will approach the subject with care and sensitivity. The project is currently in its infancy so we hope that people will reserve judgment until there is something to see.”

That’s the same argument made by defenders of the show, who believe the idea just sounds worse than it will actually look upon airing. In the original press release announcing the show, Benioff and Weiss said they’d been sitting on the idea for years: “There won’t be dragons or White Walkers in this series, but we are creating a world, and we couldn’t imagine better partners in world-building than Nichelle and Malcolm, who have impressed us for a long time with their wit, their imagination and their Scrabble-playing skills.”

#NoConfederate has been trending since 9PM on Sunday, to coincide with Game of Thrones’ air time, when Twitter is usually blowing up with Game of Thrones hashtags. The campaign was orchestrated Rebecca Theodore, Shanelle Little, Lauren Warren, and Jamie Broadnax, along with April Reign, a social media activist who also started the conversation-changing #OscarsSoWhite tag.