The North loses the battle of Antietam, which denies Lincoln the victory he needs to make the abolition of slavery a central goal of the war between the states. This allows the south to keep the moral authority enough to swing Britain and France in on the confederate side. Gettysberg is lost. The South wins the war, destroys the north, and the United States of America ceases to exist, transforming into The Confederate States of America.
This is the plotline of the film C.S.A: The Confederate States of America. The film is a fictional documentary, purported to be a British film at first not allowed to be shown in the C.S.A. The film is presented as if it is being shown on CSA television, complete with fake advertisements aimed at a Confederate, slave-owning, audience. Products (some of which actually existed at one time) like “Sambo Oil,” “Darkie Toothpaste”, a COPS-like show about Runaway slaves called, appropriately enough, Runaway.
In this disturbing alternate history, Harriet Tubman attempted to sneak Abraham Lincoln into Canada and was hung for her trouble, as Lincoln was at first imprisoned, and then eventually exiled. Dying in 1905. Jefferson Davis ignores Robert E. Lee’s pleas for emancipation, and returns the practice of slavery to the north (at the supposed suggestion of his own slave), Frederick Douglass flees to Canada and leads the “Red Canadian” protest against slavery in the former U.S. Chinese immigrants are wrapped into the slavery program as they come to mine gold and build railroads. The CSA becomes involved in a decades-long war as they try to subjugate south America, instituting Jim Crow laws against Hispanics even if they do not enslave them. The CSA even enters WW2 on the side of Nazi Germany, though they do try to persuade Hitler just to make slaves of the Jews instead of exterminating them.
In short, this is a ghastly vision of a history in which U.S. Cultural development is stunted and Canada takes the US’s place in world popular culture. Slavery still exists in the modern day. It is all presented as if it’s a Ken Burns documentary. Some of this works really well, especially the parts that are interviews with history scholars and archived footage. The parts that are reproductions of supposed cultural works, such as plays and 1940’s movies, are the real weaknesses, so poorly written and performed as to breakbelievability a little. This is a forgivable sin, however, as it may be part of the point.
This film is fascinating, revealing a world that might have been. I’m not sure if all parts of the history hold up, but it certainly seems plausible. It’s also a helpful reminder of how some attitudes can become ingrained in a culture. Any history buff, anyone interested in how diversity issues can play out in a culture, should see this film, and shudder at a world that could have existed.
CSA is available on DVD, and often replays on IFC. It was produced by Spike Lee and directed by Kevin Wilmott.