Monday, August 07, 2006

CSA - what if the South had won the civil war?

CSA - The Confederate States of America - is a mockumentary in the style of THIS IS SPINAL TAP. This time, the subject of the satire is American race relations. More specifically, CSA asks what US history would have been like if the Confederate South had won the American Civil War. It does this using a mock BBC documentary format, with fake talking heads, fake old news footage and even fake TV spots. The charm of watching this flick is to see how events would have unfolded through world war two to the present day, but some "highlights" include the Confederate government confining American Jews to a ghetto on Long Island and JFK being assassinated because of his dangerous views on anti-apartheid.

The scary part about this film is that it soon stops being funny. TV spots for products like Sambo motor oil and Coon Chicken are sickening. It's also salutory to see how little authentic TV news footage needs to be changed to make it seem like the South won the war. There is a particularly chilling scene which shows a presidential debate between JFK and Nixon. JFK is, in the parallel universe, arguing for the abolition of slavery. The editors use actual footage of JFK arguing that the emancipation proclamation should be a beginning not an end. Throughout the documentary you realise how far images of slavery are still used in society, apparently with little recognition let alone protest. But the larger point is that while the North may have won the civil war, in practical terms, this did not help the african-americans as much as one might have hoped.

So this is a provocative, if not funny, movie and deserves to be seen. My only reservation is that the neat concept and powerful argument have been hammered home long before the ninety minute running time is up.

CSA - The Confederate States of America showed at Sundance in 2004. It has just opened in the UK but comes out on Region 1 DVD on tomorrow.

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