Bernard Thuersam, director of the Cape Fear Historical Institute, responds below to a review of the movie "CSA: Confederate States of America" in the Niner Online, the online student newspaper of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. "Had the Confederacy won," he writes, "North America would be the example to the world for representative government working as it was intended and faithfulness to the Declaration of Independence." The complete response follows.
ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE ON `CSA’ FILM CONTROVERSY
April 11, 2006
The film review of "The Confederate States of America" brings up some very important, yet misunderstood, issues from our history.
The author rightly mentions Secretary of State Judah Benjamin as a strong figure in the government of the Confederacy, and he was, of course, the first Jewish cabinet member in American history.
His efforts to obtain European recognition and assistance for the Confederacy, much like the French assistance that was responsible for success for the American colonies, quite nearly won political independence for the Southern States.
The War Between the States was no more about slavery than the American Revolution, which saw British Royal Governor Lord Dunmore of Virginia emancipate slaves in 1775 to fight against our independence.
To say Benjamin came "chillingly close" suggests that the writer does not welcome self-determination and government with the consent of the governed provided by our Constitution.
Would we today violently oppose any state whose voting inhabitants desired to affiliate with a different political entity? Would we kill the defenders, confiscate their property and force them to live under a government which did not earn their consent?
This is the real question about that war, a very serious blight on our history.
The slavery mentioned by the writer must be seen and understood in the context of the times and the result of African slavery introduced by Europeans to North America.
Certainly, the Southern states were the last to continue the agricultural system instituted by the English, but to blame the Confederacy for African slavery is a gross and misleading error.
If the abolitionists were truly serious about eradicating slavery in the country, then they would have purchased the slaves’ freedom with the money the North would eventually expend in prosecuting a barbaric war upon fellow Americans who desired political independence.
The amount spent to conquer the American Confederacy amounted to far more than reimbursing the owners for the slaves, and giving each the 40 acres and proverbial mule.
This, of course, doesn’t count the one million Americans who died in such total war, or the loss of our constitution in the process.
In an honest assessment, had the Confederacy won independence for Americans in the south, we would no doubt have seen the demise of slavery in both the North and the South.
With both sides emancipating slaves for military service, the North in 1863, and the Confederacy in 1865, it would have become difficult to stem the tide of eventual freedom for blacks.
More importantly, had the Confederacy won, North America would be the example to the world for representative government working as it was intended and faithfulness to the Declaration of Independence.
We should be intellectually honest enough today to better understand and accept our history, objectively, with warts and all.
The author of the review did not display an adequate understanding of that era of our history for the commentary to be insightful, but a little research on the subject will better prepare them in the future.
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Ashley Patriarca reviews the movie "CSA: Confederate States of America" below in the Niner Online, the online student newspaper of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Patriarca writes that the Confederacy came "chillingly" close to winning the War for Southern Independence. She writes that the movie "highlights the absurdity of thinking that the Confederate flag does not represent a shameful epoch in our nation’s history."
You can respond to this column with a letter to the editor at 9201 University City Blvd., Charlotte NC 28223, via fax at (704) 687- 3394, or via e-mail at uteditor@…
You can respond to Ashley directly at 2437 Commonwealth Avenue, Charlotte NC 28205, at (704) 502-1601, or via e-mail at aspatria@…
CONTROVERSIAL FILM NOW PLAYING IN CHARLOTTE AREA
by Ashley Patriarca
UT Assistant Copy Editor
April 04, 2006
Before watching "CSA: Confederate States of America," viewers (and readers of this review) must understand that this film is intended to challenge its audience.
Unquestionably confrontational in tone, the film asks what would have happened if the Confederacy had won the Civil War.
The style mocks studio documentaries, twisting Ken Burns around in a way the pompous filmmaker could never have expected.
The film is presented as a controversial documentary from a BBC- like studio, which a local CSA television station is showing uncut.
According to the "documentary," the Confederacy won the war because of the efforts of its great negotiator Judah P. Benjamin. Benjamin convinced England and France to aid the Confederacy and serve as a market for southern cotton.
Chillingly, Benjamin, an historical figure, came incredibly close to achieving this goal.
The "documentary" also points out that, like all oppressive societies, the CSA began to increase the numbers of people being exploited.
Watch what happened to the Confederacy’s negotiator once the war was over and the rule of the CSA began.
The film even includes fake commercials, using slaves to promote life insurance, cleaning supplies and food, among other commodities. Slaves themselves are marketed on commercials for a slave shopping network.
Shockingly, the commercials are based on actual advertising logos used in the United States in the 20th century.
In addition, the "documentary" features clips from movies produced by CSA studios.
The narrator notes that an exodus of talent, both white and black, after the Civil War ensured that the quality of these films – and, indeed, all art produced in the CSA – was far less than those produced elsewhere.
As for the style of the film, the camera work is often a bit rough, in homage to the rough-and-ready manner of the documentaries being parodied (as well as an indicator of the tiny budget for the film).
The talking heads – "experts" on the history of the CSA from Canada and the United Kingdom – add their two cents convincingly, and the family of CSA politicians provides both comic relief and dismay with their resemblance to some real politicians.
Although the film was initially released on the festival circuit in 2004 (even becoming an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival), it is just now becoming widely available.
The new availability – and growing buzz – is, in part, due to the people who have attached themselves to the project. The film is being distributed by IFC and is presented by veteran director and producer Spike Lee.
"CSA" is currently showing only at the new Ballantyne Village Theatre, a new movie theater devoted to independent films.
As satire, the film achieves many of its goals. It provokes powerful reactions in its viewers. It disputes the idea that racism has been eliminated from our society.
Most of all, it highlights the absurdity of thinking that the Confederate flag does not represent a shameful epoch in our nation’s history.
If you’re not outraged, you’re completely missing the point of the film.