Amazon show on freed slaves with own nation

Amazon's Black America is a project of Will Packer (above), a producer whose films include Straight Outta Compton (2015).
Amazon's Black America is a project of Will Packer (above), a producer whose films include Straight Outta Compton (2015).PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BOSTON • Joining a recent boon in alt-history dramas, Amazon is developing a series called Black America that imagines what would happen if freed slaves after the United States Civil War formed their own nation from three southern states as reparations for forced labour.

The show invited immediate comparisons to Confederate, an upcoming HBO drama that also imagines a modern world in which the American South seceded and slavery remains legal.

That project - from the creators of Game Of Thrones - has drawn a social media backlash, with fears that a depiction of modern-day slavery would be exploitative and racially insensitive.

The Amazon show is the project of Will Packer, a producer whose films include Straight Outta Compton (2015). He announced the details in an interview with Deadline on Tuesday.

Though Deadline reported that the flap over Confederate prompted the Black America team to reveal its premise, the project has been in the works for about a year.

Both series will land in an America that seems as racially divided as ever, where symbols of white supremacist power are still the subject of headlines.

But the Amazon series takes a different tack, setting aside the "What if the South had won?" speculation.

In the back story of Black America, the former slaves claim Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and form a nation known as New Colonia.

That nation has a "tumultuous and sometimes violent relationship" with the US, which is described as both an ally and a foe.

The series picks up in the current day, when New Colonia and the US have enjoyed two decades of peace, but the new nation is growing rapidly while the old one declines.

"It was something that was personally intriguing for me as a black American," Packer told Deadline.

"You would be hard-pressed to find many black Americans who have not thought about the concept of reparation, what would happen if reparations were actually given.

"As a content creator, the fact that that is something that has been discussed thoroughly throughout various demographics of people in this country, but yet never been explored to my knowledge in any real way in long-form content, I thought it was a tremendous opportunity to delve into the story, to do it right."

On Twitter, Packer reiterated that the show was not in response to Confederate.

But he addressed HBO's show in his Deadline interview, saying "the fact that there is the contemplation of contemporary slavery makes it something that I would not be a part of producing nor consuming".

He added: "Slavery is far too real and far too painful - and we still see the manifestations of it today as a country - for me to ever view that as a form of entertainment."

Black America will be Amazon's second high-profile foray into alternative history.

In 2015, The Man In The High Castle imagined a 1960s in which the Allies lost World War II, with Germany and Japan splitting up the US.

That series, loosely based on the Philip K. Dick novel, also drew some controversy at first, after an advertising campaign that included decorating New York subway trains with Nazi symbolism.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2017, with the headline 'Amazon show on freed slaves with own nation'. Print Edition | Subscribe