CSA
Just one of many assumptive leaps that ruin the concept of “C.S.A.”.

Theatrical Release Date: 02/15/2006
Director: Kevin Willmott
Cast: I don’t even feel like bothering so bite me

I know what many of you are thinking. What the hell is this film and where did it come from? “C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America” actually was filmed over a four year period between 2000 and 2004 when it was released at Sundance. Since that time, it has been released internationally and finally landed back in the United States of America this year.

The premise of the film is a documentary in an alternate reality where the South won the Civil War. Writer/Director Kevin Willmott (who also teaches film at the University of Kansas) said he got the inspiration after watching the Ken Burns’ mini-series on the Civil War. Adding to that, he also thought many of Hollywood’s attempts to explore the time period were “antiseptic”.

I’ll get to Willmott’s ability to follow through on his idea later. For now, let’s look at the film.

“CSA” doesn’t so much create an alternate history as it maps confederate or Southern slavery-time-period morality on actual American history. For example, instead of D.W. Griffith creating “A Birth of a Nation”, the film is instead about Abraham Lincoln trying to escape into Canada after losing the Civil War. To really add a touch of class, Lincoln enlists the help of Harriet Tubman whose ingenious plan is to put Lincoln in black face.

The farce goes so far as to show Lincoln being captured just short of Canada and trying to persuade his captors he really is black, spouting what would be termed ignorant and offensive racial stereotypes in the present-day zeitgeist.

Another segment of the film deals with WWII. As a result of confederate policy, America has become an isolationist country and decides not to fight against Germany. Rather, our President visits Germany and gives them the idea of using the Jews for work camps like we use our “Negroes” as slaves.

Yet another segment details JFK’s presidency and how shortly after he tries to put the Emancipation Proclamation into actual practice (since the North lost the war), he is assassinated.

The film goes on and on like this, interspersed with racially tweaked commercials and TV promos, continuing the charade that you are watching a documentary on TV.

The problem with “CSA” isn’t the idea. This could have been a very interesting and engaging film. The problem is that in tackling this subject, you should either do a completely satirical look at what might have happened or you should create a truly alternate history.

This film does neither. Some of the satire is funny, but in a “Mad TV” kind of way. It’s funny because it’s offensive and I have no soul. The main elements, set within the documentary framework, are just grade school “what ifs” in regards to key points in American history over the last 150 years.

“CSA” fails to provide any real commentary on the issue, which should be the one thing it actually does. The very end of the film highlights some actual historical carryovers of slave-era commercialism; giving the audience real examples of goods and services that were born from prejudice and continued their racially insensitive tones into recent and current times.

But seriously, how does showing Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben really count as a hard look at today’s America? Like anyone with half a brain doesn’t realize where those products got their original idea. If anything, I’m offended Willmott thinks showing the audience that will change anything or frame his poorly constructed film any differently.

This film could have been something intelligent and pervasive. Instead, it was like watching a dramatization of a high school essay. I never got the sense that in “CSA”, losing the Civil War would fundamentally change anything. According to the film, America just kind of continued on its course, making some policy changes here and there and eventually coming to the conclusion that slavery was bad anyway, just 150 years later.

So, what was the point of the film? Aside from many more years of degradation and deplorable human behavior, what did the South winning the Civil War really mean? These questions were not answered and the biggest question I was left with was why people didn’t walk out of this film? It wasn’t entertaining since it didn’t go completely over to the satirical side and it wasn’t really all that thought provoking since it only took our own history and brushed it with broad slavery overtones.

And why is the film’s title “C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America”? What’s so great they named it twice? Why am I even still writing about this?

If you still want to see “C.S.A.:CSA”, stop and grab something sharp. Poke yourself somewhere and tend to your wound. But whatever you do, don’t see this film. I’m giving it a 1 out of 5. It gets a point for its premise but a zero for its execution. Speaking of which, anyone have a band-aid? I think I hit an artery.