C.S.A.: THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA (director/writer: Kevin Willmott; cinematographer: Matthew Jacobson; editors: Sean Blake/David Gramly; music: Erich L. Timkar/Kelly Werts; cast: Evamarii Johnson (Barbara Johnson), Rupert Pate (Sherman Hoyle), Larry J. Peterson (Ambroise Fauntroy), Charles Frank (Narrator); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Rick Cowan; IFC Films; 2004)
“It’s a film beaming with fertile ideas.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Cleverly produced but heavy-handed historical satire that’s filmed as a racial fake documentary that posits the South winning the Civil War and setting up an antebellum empire. Writer-director Kevin Willmott structures it as a BBC TV production that’s modeled after Ken Burns’s stately Civil War documentary, as he broadcasts on Confederate Television Channel 6 in San Francisco. It features a narrator, talking heads, re-enactments, archive material, and commercials (including an ad for Niggerhair Cigarettes).
The faux documentary suggests that the winner in war writes the history, and the film thereby offers a shocking alternative to our history as seen from the South’s POV as victors. The South’s victory was arranged by their Jewish secretary of state, whose persuasive argument about freedom of property drew in the French and British troops and turned the tide for a Confederate victory and Lincoln’s humiliating arrest in blackface while trying to escape with the help of Harriet Tubman and her Underground Railroad, imprisonment for two years in a federal pen and exile to Canada where the embittered man died of old age. The chase for Lincoln was filmed by D. W. Griffith as a re-creation film titled “The Hunt for Dishonest Abe.” Jefferson Davis moves into the White House as president, “Dixie” becomes the national anthem and the new government of the CSA introduces a pro-slavery act to the defeated and economically ruined North. Other draconian policies with the passing of time include the banning of all non-Christian religions, setting up in Central America an apartheid society, maintaining friendly relations with Hitler, making Chinese immigrants slaves and having a cold war with Canada over its antislavery stance.
The film is eerily effective when the satire seems to run parallel to actual conflicts in American history and highlights what the South’s bigoted policies could have possibly meant for a modern America if they actually won the war. It’s a film beaming with fertile ideas, SNL type of political revue comedic yearnings and is more provocative than laugh-out-loud funny or witty. The one-joke idea goes on for too long and thereby wears thin long before the closing act. But even if its ambitious aims are not fully realized, it scores some valuable points with some of its disturbing assaults on America’s slavery past and its current racially divided conscience.
REVIEWED ON 1/31/2008 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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