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In ‘C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America,’ the Confederacy Is Much Bigger Than the South

Friday, October 27, 2017

Early in C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, Ulysses S. Grant surrenders the Civil War to Robert E. Lee. The Confederacy declares victory over the Union: Jefferson Davis ascends to national power. And American chattel slavery is allowed to persist into the present day.

That’s just the beginning. C.S.A., a 2005 film written and directed by satirist Kevin Willmott, is a mockumentary in the style of the Ken Burns epic miniseries The Civil War. It’s a mix of movie clips, historical photographs, and the talking-head expertise of, among others, a pair of contemporary historians—one white and pro-Confederacy, the other, well, black. According to the experts, the minute the Confederacy defeats the Union, Abraham Lincoln becomes a fugitive. He tries to escape to Canada through the Underground Railroad with the help of Harriet Tubman, who persuades him to make the journey using a disguise that defined the era: blackface. When Tubman and Lincoln are caught at the border, Lincoln’s face is covered in burnt cork, like a minstrel—an event so sensationally strange that D.W. Griffith apparently makes a movie about it. Tubman is executed, meanwhile, but as a balm to the North’s hurt feelings, Lincoln is spared. He’s exiled to live out the rest of his days in Montreal—a better fate than getting shot in the head, no doubt. But what about the country he leaves behind?

C.S.A. was clearly designed to incite... Read more

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