Genius Products // 2004 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // September 7th, 2006
What if the South had won the war?
C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America is a mock documentary (or "mockumentary") written and directed by Kevin Willmott. The documentary -- which attempts to be both humorous and insightful -- takes on the guise of a British, Ken Burns-type film that traces the history of the Confederacy from the point of its victorious battle at Gettysburg, from which it went on to decisively win the Civil War. Periodically the documentary goes to commercial break, wherein Willmott inserts faux commercials invariably hawking products related to slavery or evoking racist imagery.
This speculative film's first miscalculation (of many) has the South marching onto Washington, D.C., running Lincoln out of office, and eventually occupying the United States in its entirety. The Confederacy legalizes slavery across the entire country and offers tax incentives to Northerners who purchase slaves. This is an absurd concept for several reasons. At the start of the Civil War, the Confederacy's population included 5 million non-slaves, while the North had 22 million free men. In addition, the North had a huge industrial advantage over the South. While it may have been possible for the Northern states to become disgusted with the bloodshed necessary to force the slave states to rejoin the Union, the South had nowhere near the capacity -- or the interest -- to occupy the entire country. Furthermore, Southerners were strong supporters of state's rights and would have been ideologically opposed to imposing their laws onto Northern states.
Defenders of the film would probably say that C.S.A. is a comedy and shouldn't be held to rigid historical accuracy. There are some problems with that argument. One is that much of C.S.A.'s audience (including myself) will be made up of Civil War buffs who are interested in a serious speculation of what the South would currently look like if it had gained its freedom from the North. That could make for a fascinating movie. On a similar note, Thomas Harris (Fatherland) and Philip Roth (The Plot Against America) have both written best-selling novels that seriously speculate on the fate of the world if Germany had won World War II.
C.S.A. goes on to make several other gaffes, with a partial list including: the British sending soldiers to fight alongside Confederates (the British did consider breaking the North's naval blockade of the Southern states, but would have never sent troops for ground fighting); the resumption of the slave trade (this wildly unpopular practice was banned before the Civil War); the practice of slavery continuing apace into the 21st century. In addition to these, there are more than a few mistakes resulting from a general lack of attention to detail. Very few of the contemporary "Confederates" speak with a Southern accent, which is odd considering that the Southern states would most likely contain the cultural seat of power. Also, several of the modern-day slaves wear clothing that would be considered urban (baggy jeans, for instance). My guess is that while enslaved, blacks would be unable to develop their own fashions and trends.
Additionally, C.S.A. is not very funny. Even if you do not know (or care) about the history of the Civil War, I doubt you will be laughing very often during the film. It's not that I find the humor (which often invokes centuries old black stereotypes and puts them in modern contexts) offensive; I don't. My problem is that it's just not funny. The humor is far too broad and obvious. The actors seem inexperienced and awkward. The production is only a notch above that of a high school audio/visual class. Any random sketch from Chapelle's Show is guaranteed to be far more insightful on current race relations, and infinitely funnier, than C.S.A. in its entirety.
Although it should be clear that I have little interest in them, it is worth nothing that the C.S.A. DVD does come with a nice cache of extras for fans of the film (and, to my recollection, the film did receive generally favorable reviews upon its release). I have reviewed several releases from Genius Entertainment and, despite the low-key status of many of their films, always provide decent supplementals for their product. As a champion of independent film, I just wanted to applaud them for their fine work.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary by Director Kevin Wilmott and Producer Rick Cowan
* "Reality of the Fiction"--Commentary by Director Kevin Wilmott
* Deleted Scenes
* "Making of CSA" with the Filmmakers
* Official Site