What if? Film explores Confederate nation
In light of the recent spate of racial intolerance incidents at the University of Virginia, school officials and leaders have been struggling to find ways to combat bigotry and encourage students to embrace diversity. But UVA President John Casteen hasn't been the only one losing sleep over the incidents.
Kevin Willmott, a film professor at the University of Kansas, has recently directed a movie that treats "slavery in history and racism in modernity."
Scheduled to premiere in just two American cities– Charlottesville is one– on October 7, The Confederate States of America is a mockumentary that hypothesizes the state of the States if the South had won the Civil War. In a recent on-Grounds interview before a sneak preview, Willmott says he planned the premiere before the recent incidents at UVA; nevertheless, the timing is uncanny. Although in the past UVA has seen acts– even attacks– resulting from racial intolerance, recent incidents have prompted UVA to hire its first ever Chief Diversity Officer.
In short, this film on racism, produced by Spike Lee, could not have arrived in Charlottesville at a more racially tumultuous time. And Willmott's powerful message is not about to relieve any tensions, "although it should spur people to discuss, and hopefully act," says the director.
The film paints an image of an America where slavery exists. Liberals flee to Canada, and when World War II arrives, Americans take a non-aggressive stance towards the Third Reich. International relations are in shreds. Yet possibly the most chilling element of the documentary is that Willmott uses actual news footage from American history to create his vision of a nation of slavery and terrorism and national and international discord.
"One of the main ideas behind this film is that our modern USA is not so different from the CSA," says Willmott. "There are a lot of cultural elements and events in the film that seem so shocking, but then viewers realize that many of them parallel real American life."
The movie's brash approach extends to its website, which features an eBay-style online auction of African American workers. And even the director confesses that some of the actors were initially hesitant to work on the film.
"Some of them were weirded out," he recalls. "But if I were making a slasher film, chasing a half-naked woman with an axe, few people would have a problem with it. This film has no violence, no swearing. The fact of the matter is that people know that this nation has unfinished business, and that fact is uncomfortable for them."
One of the least comfortable topics in the film is the one that receives the most attention: racism. But the depiction of the master-slave relationship in the film isn't just unsettling because it's what might have been.
"It's what still exists," says Willmott. "We may not have masters and slaves anymore, but we still have racism."
Willmott's final piece of advice is blunt. "Stop romanticizing the past. Stop romanticizing altogether," he says. "How do you want to remember our history?"
Director Kevin Willmott