Leave it to the sober-minded folks at the “British Broadcasting System”—and to ace mockumentarian Kevin Willmott—to bring us the historical record of America’s troubled reconstruction after the Union’s defeat in the “War of Northern Aggression.” Like Spike Lee’s Bamboozled but funnier, C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America often takes on a tone of ominous science fiction, presenting through the form of a pitch-perfect Ken Burns parody an alternate history of a nation at peace with its virulent racism.
Following a warning that its material “may be unsuitable for children and servants,” the film launches into a ponderously narrated chronicle, very much written by the winners. After the South’s successful solicitation of Britain and France, the North lies in rubble as Lincoln flees into hiding in blackface, assisted by Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad. His capture, conveyed in a spot-on clip from D.W. Griffith’s “classic” The Hunt for Dishonest Abe, is only the first of many revisionist barbs: a truce with Hitler, a long-standing cold war with “Red Canada,” and the rise of a Kennedy-like political dynasty called the Fauntroys.
Best of all are the jolting commercial interruptions for products like Darky Toothpaste and Niggerhair Cigarettes, scarier for being based on actual 20th-century products, as a coda shows. Willmott may only be saying that the Civil War was more rooted in human rights than is commonly believed, but his nightmarish satire makes the point well worth hammering. (Now playing; IFC Center.)—Joshua Rothkopf