CSA: The Confederate States of America

by Phil Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday September 7, 2006

What would America have been like had the South won the Civil War? Kevin Willmott's satirical CSA: The Confederate States of America imagines a 21st century Confederacy via a faux-documentary format. The result is uneven and eventually unsuccessful.

CSA is framed as a British TV documentary on the history of post-Civil War America. This presentation comes with commercials that might be at home in a modern Confederacy TV line-up: an insurance advertisement promising property protection (the property is a smiling black boy), consumer products featuring racially offensive imagery (based on actual products from the 20th century, such as Darky Toothpaste), and reruns for derogatory programming such as the long-forgotten 1950s sitcom "Beulah."

The crux of the film traces, in Ken Burns-style, the rise of the Confederacy after the fall of the Union and the imprisonment of Abraham Lincoln (whose attempt to escape in blackface to Canada with Harriet Tubman's aid was thwarted). With Jefferson Davis in the White House, the new nation (renamed the Confederate States of America) takes on the task of imposing its peculiar racial attitudes on the defeated North and the Wild West. Free people of color are rounded up and sold into slavery, Chinese workers building the railroads are also enslaved, and Jews are either expelled from the country or isolated on reservations on (of all places) Long Island. American Indians meet the same fate under the CSA as they did under the American government.

The main problem with this film and its re-imagining of a triumphant Dixie is simple: it's boring. It is basically one joke played out endlessly, to the point of becoming emetic. The jokey commercials have an impact the first go-round, but their repeated racism becomes tiresome and irritating. And some gags, such as a COPS-inspired reality show called Runaway (with white police officers collaring escaping black slaves to a bluegrass rendition of Bad Boys) is just neither funny nor clever.

Likewise, the film's decision to incorporate genuine examples of human horror (photographs of the Wounded Knee Massacre and Southern lynch mob violence) are thoroughly out of place in a movie that tries to score satirical points.

CSA might have worked as a short film, but at 89 minutes the repetition is grueling and the cumulative effective is numbing. There are Klan rallies that are more imaginative than this movie.

Filmmaker commentaries, deleted scenes, featurette on the making of the film.

Phil Hall is the author of "The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time