What if the South had won the Civil War? Written and directed by Kevin Wilmott, presented by IFC Films and Spike
Lee, the focus of this film is not to
merely ask that question. It treats it as bona fide American history and
runs with the ball from there- looking at the ensuing 140 years after a
Confederate victory using contrived commentators, considerably altered
historical references, sly sensationalist commercials and
actual news footage from America's past.
While the premise with which the end is met here is a bit sketchy and
doubtful, the mockumentary takes the position that the South managed to
woo both England and France to come in on the side of the Confederacy,
something that the Union was indeed more than a little fearful of during
the Civil War. Were it not for the staunch stance of Europe and indeed
most of the civilized world's abhorrence of slavery this likely would
have happened; indeed, there was a feeling at the time that it might come to
be anyway should the South win another victory or two. Imagine a Battle of Gettysburg
with three nations against the Union
army on that Pennsylvania field and suddenly what was a whale of a
fight becomes the Confederate routing of Northern Union troops. Though most
scholars speculate that emancipation was inevitable regardless of the Civil
War's outcome, what this film does is remind the viewer that it isn't
necessarily so; nations have embraced many sideways ideals and causes before and
since and done so in defiance of what most would term to be moral or
Humorous, unsettling and more than a little ugly,
the sketches and overall depiction of a Rebel governed United States-
indeed, a Confederate states with the North brought in by sweeping
annexation- are more often than not realistic and could easily have been
accurate had events gone as proposed here. Pictures of Iwo Jima
and a rebel flag being hoisted by WWII Americans, as well as planting
those stars and bars on the surface of the moon. Lincoln not only on the
run from Southern authorities, but forced to do so by using the
underground railroad, cloaked in blackface and accompanied by Harriet
Beecher Stowe. She is summarily executed when captured; Lincoln is
convicted of war crimes and held in a military prison for two years,
then pardoned and exiled to Canada. Indeed, had Lincoln lost the war it
is likely he would have been vilified for generations to come. Jefferson
Davis moves the Confederate capital to Washington and the White House.
"Dixie" becomes our national anthem. A Northern reconstruction plan effectively advocates the reimplementation of slavery to the Union
states in the form of a Northern only income tax, avoidable should a
household own at least one slave. Shakespearean actors in blackface.
There have long been what is these days termed 'alternate history'
novels, and almost certainly the most proliferate subject has been the
American Civil War and more precisely, what would have been the result
had the South been victorious? Unfortunately for a history buff like
myself almost nothing has been brought to film on the subject, even
though there are any number of worthy writings with which to do so.
Harry Turtledove alone has produced reams on the subject, keeping the
North and South as separate entities leading right up to the present
day. Until some studio manages to take on the rather controversial
subject, pieces such as this one give the viewer some insight into what
could have been and in the case of the Civil War, could easily have been
had world politics not been what they were at the time.
The filmmakers of CSA employs a number of sideways scenarios here in
their depiction of a CSA with a different history for the last 100 plus
years. When watching this mockumentary the viewer is likely to squirm from
to time, and that is exactly what the creators strive to do. Of course,
any country that has no problem keeping slavery in place into the 20th
century has no problem with tossing the Jews out of America, nor
declaring Chinese immigrants building the railroads out West as American
rather than simply cheap labor.
Ranging from callous to dry to bawdy, it invites controversy with the
ways in which it keeps returning to a glaring indifference, a political
incorrectness that is likely to raise the ire of more than a few
viewers. Example? One commercial here is for Darky Toothpaste......for a
shine that's jigaboo bright! At times this is venomous Monty Python, others
epic, all the while taking on the look and feel a Spike Lee Joint. It seems
as if there are so many
roads on which the premise could be taken, yet over the span of a mere 90
minutes the director Wilmott tries to take them all. That isn't a bad idea;
in fact, it works very well here, moving quickly with breaks for dark,
satirical commercials ("Coon Chicken Inn" replaces the fare the Colonel
has been selling us for years) and that is one of the less offensive spots.
Documentary footage on an ever expanding Southern reign gives history
lessons on what is essentially a completely different WWI, one hard
fought against South America in order to further Confederate world
domination and enslave any man whose skin isn't white. The Wall Street
crash here has other ideas on recovery- slave export becomes America's
ace in the hole.
Politicians extroll on the virtues of modern day slavery, in much the manner
they did 150 years ago, with a vehemently anti-abolitionist Fontroy
clan taking the place of the Kennedys as the royal family over the
course of many generations. When we get to WWII is when things get even
creepier.....would an anti-Semitic America really have a problem with
Hitler's policy towards European Jews? In fact Der Fuhrer is taken on tours
Southern plantations. Why the useless slaughter of so much humanity, when it
can made far better use of as Reich livestock? War here is America
against Japan simply because of color- the CSA strikes Japanese
harbors on December 7, 1941, fighting a cruel war until the atomic bomb
is created.....the "ultimate instrument with which to put people of color
in their place".
The fifties? The advent of the "Cotton Curtain" and a
political hunt for "Abbies", Abolitionists who might be your own
neighbor! The sixties brings freedom advocate John F. Kennedy, his renewed
call for Emancipation and
that inevitable assassination in 1963 as a result. The Clinton parallels are
as well, in the form of an investigation into a Fortnoy family member being
a closet mulatto. The internet? Online slave sales are only surpassed by-
what else? Porn! The documentary doesn't stop at color lines, either- this is an America in which women still don't have the vote! I feel that I've only touched on the dozens of obvious historic changes made throughout; others are far more subtle and will take some research in order for the viewer to appreciate just how much thought and historical research was implemented in creating this film.
Aspect ratio here is 1.33:1 fullscreen. As with 'real' documentaries, some
portions of the footage looks better than others. Sharpness is adequate, if
a bit on the soft side. Colors appear to be well represented.
Audio track here is Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Clear and easy to understand,
it is fine for documentary purposes.
Commentary With Director Kevin Wilmott and Producer Rick Cowan- Running the length of the film both speak in length on their reasonings for making many of the decisions they did in making the film; if you like the movie this is well worth checking out.
Reality Of The Fiction- Commentary with Director Kevin Wilmott- A second commentary by Wilmott alone, digging deep into his reasoning for changing dozens of historic facts in order to plausibly film his altered, "reverse" history. Again, both commentaries are worth a listen, but this one will be particularly fascinating to history and "what if" buffs.
Deleted Scenes- About 13 minutes of outtakes from the film, most of which are simply variations on what was used with the exception of a few, such as a promotional spot for the "Confederate States Air Force".
Making of CSA with Filmmakers- Clocking in at 10 minutes, Wilmott and crew talk about pertinent points they want the viewer to "get" when watching the movie, how they see the realities of their film in the context of the USA in modern day life.
Apt comparisons have been made between this film and Lee's "Bamboozled"-
this is barely concealed satire, chilling in its tongue in cheek matter-of-factness; at times one can
easily liken what passes as Southern logic here to the offerings any extremist
group might produce. As would be the case with any Lee project, the viewer is compelled to
look beyond the surface at just how scathingly accurate this mockumentary
often is. This really is a gem of a film, pulling no punches and taking no prisoners. Both history and alternate history buffs will find much of the
material fascinating, if at times heavy handed and a bit preachy; casual
viewers will be taken to school in more ways than one. You're going to be
entertained, but its going to cost you- you're also likely to be educated regardless of whether or not you agree with the filmmakers' vision. This is a well executed, dark satire that
invites repeated viewings in order for the viewer to grasp just how many
angles director/writer Wilmott is coming from. Highly recommended.