C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America
(2004) Directed by Kevin Willmott
W.E.B. DU BOIS PROCLAIMED MANY years ago that the problem of the 20th century “is the problem of the color line.” Kevin Willmott’s scathing and coarse faux documentary shows he believes it is the problem of the 21st century as well.
Willmott cinematically muses on what America would be like today if the Confederacy had won the Civil War. How would a controversial, Ken Burns–like documentary, made by a British film crew, portray us and our evolution into a modern slaveholding nation? C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America answers that we would be a shallow, casually racist version that resembles the ultra-conservative, self-important, 1950s white American middle class.
In this counterfactual take, the Confederacy wins the Battle of Gettysburg, England enters the war on the side of the South, and Lincoln is captured, tried and exiled to Canada. A reconstructed North accepts slavery, and the CSA becomes a superpower by occupying all of Mexico as well as Central and South America. Canada is a home to refugee abolitionists and escaped black slaves, necessitating the construction of the Berlin Wall–like “Cotton Curtain.”
Racist ads aimed at white slave-owning families appear throughout the movie, including one for an electronic shackle for tracking runaway slaves. Willmott jolts us back to reality at the end by revealing that some of the products, such as Darkie Toothpaste, Niggerhair Cigarettes and the Coon Chicken Inn restaurant, actually existed in America, some well into the 20th century.
If you’re looking for Dukes of Hazzard guffaws, this film is not for you. If repeated use of the “n” word offends you, this film is not for you. If you believe that racism has disappeared from modern American society, this film will make you think again. Willmott’s parodies of mass media commercialism, politically correct racial taboos and a self-satisfied sense of American exceptionalism show that we have not come as far as we would like to think we have.
Originally published in the July 2011 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.