C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (12A)

Film

Drama

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Time Out says

Tue Aug 1 2006

You won’t have seen DW Griffith’s ‘The Hunt for Dishonest Abe’, the 1955 paranoia chiller ‘I Married An Abolitionist’ or the TV show ‘Runaway’, featuring hand-held footage of African-American fugitives being hunted down by Caucasian officers, but you might have seen some things very like them. The most calculatedly shocking thing about this counterfactual mockumentary – which presents an America in which the South won the Civil War and the institution of slavery persists to the present day – is how little difference writer-director Kevin Willmott apparently believes the result of the ‘War of Northern Aggression’ actually made.

‘CSA’ is structured as a TV production complete with narrator, academic talking heads and archive material, and punctuated by adverts and news breaks. (Supposedly a British programme, its clear model is Ken Burns’s stately PBS account of the Civil War.) Something of a labour of love for Willmott, a writer and academic, it’s an undeniably ambitious and conspicuously provocative project.

The joke wears thin before too long, however, not least because the execution of the tongue-in-cheek artefacts falls short of their often witty conception. It’s also unable, by definition, to engage directly with the actual consequences of slavery. But even if the film’s ambitions outstrip its achievements, it scores some queasily conscience-pricking hits. The smiling bigotry of fake ads for once-genuine racist products (such as the Coon Chicken Inn, as seen in ‘Ghost World’) disturbs more than any cod anecdote about Lincoln in blackface, their potency as taboo objects hinting that the unacknowledged legacy of slavery isn’t too far from the surface of real US culture.
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Release details

Rated:

12A

UK release:

Fri Aug 4, 2006

Duration:

89 mins

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