Movie Review: C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America
by Jonah Begone
C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America
89 minutes, color and black and white
Produced by Rick Cowan
Directed and Written by Kevin Willmott
I watched "C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America" (2004) last night. It's a fake documentary - mockumentary - based on the South's having won the Civil War. Being Jonah Begone, I felt I had an obligation to watch it.
It was DREADFUL.
It wasn't anywhere near as clever, as funny or as thought-provoking as it thought it was. And I write this not because I do Federal reenacting - really, I can keep an open mind about the consititutionality of secession, Southern political thought, etc. It was just so heavy-handed as to be nearly unwatchable. For one thing, it presumes that if the South had won the Civil War slavery would be perpetuated and continue to exist into the modern day, something that no serious historian ever proposed. I believe just about every book I have ever read about the Civil War mentions that slavery was a dying institution by 1861, and probably wouldn't continue even if the South had been able to broker a peace with the North. So it starts with a highly questionable premise. But okay, let's enter into the world of the work (as my English Lit professors used to say) and give them this one.
You also have to accept the film's premise that, after Gettysburg and war's end, the South could somehow dominate the North militarily, socially, economically and industrially so far as to be able to rename the United States of America the Confederate States of America into a later period, including all fifty states. And South America! Please. I suspect that the writers of this documentary never got around to reading many books about the 19th Century North and the South.
One thing's for sure: the producers did very little research on Confederate vexillology. They kept showing the Confederate Battle flag (a square flag) being used as the national flag, and it's even shown flying over the White House. As most reenactors know, the real C.S.A. National Flag was a white affair with the familiar starred X in the upper left corner. The flag also had a red vertical stripe on the right edge. Here. But you'll never see this one in the film. Oops.
By about the half way point, I got very tired of this production. And this film included something I have never before seen in a film: a misspelling on a title card in a (fake) news broadcast. This film was that amateurish.
The only edifying thing about C.S.A. were the references to various actual household products and places featuring outrageously sterotypical black figures. One such was the "Coon Chicken Inn" located in, I hate to say it, Salt Lake City. (It was a chain and there were other locations, but the company was based in Salt Lake City.) Check out this mind-blowing postcard; one entered the restaurant through the mouth of an enormous black man's face. Or what passed for one way back when. Amazing.
Funny thing, though... while making implicit criticisms of black stereotypes, the producers were happy to use stereotypes of white Southerners in this film. This suggests to me that their thought was that there's nothing wrong with stereotyping people as long as they're politically acceptable stereotypes to advance an agenda.
Anyway, C.S.A. was an awkward, clunky and poorly-written mockumentary which does little, if anything, to cause one to consider American history or improve race relations in America.