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Amazon’s Black America may be the inverse of HBO’s controversial alt-history show Confederate

The newly announced series, from Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder and Girls Trip producer Will Packer, envisions a world where freed slaves formed their own nation.

Aaron McGruder and Will Packer
Aaron McGruder and Will Packer have been developing Black America with Amazon for over a year.
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images; Amanda Edwards/WireImage
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Amazon’s newly announced series Black America — an alternate history resulting from a different outcome of the American Civil War — is at once very similar to and wildly different from HBO’s embattled Confederate.

Hailing from Peabody winner Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks) and Will Packer (who’s produced everything from Straight Outta Compton to Girls Trip to the recent remake of Roots), Black America takes place in a world where the North won the Civil War, but the process of Reconstruction resulted in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama being given to freed slaves, who formed their own nation, New Colonia. (According to Deadline, the series originated from an idea from Amazon head of content Roy Price.)

The series takes place in the present day, but in an alternate world where the gigantic United States and the smaller New Colonia continue to explore their sometimes-fractious relationship. In an interview with Deadline announcing the project, Packer discussed it in terms of an alt-universe black utopia.

Said Packer:

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.

Confederate, on the other hand, was announced in July and immediately drew widespread controversy for its premise, which involves the South winning the Civil War and slavery existing into present-day America. With Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss attached as executive producers and showrunners, the series has drawn preemptive criticism for being yet another story of black suffering from white creators.

Benioff and Weiss will be joined by fellow executive producers Malcolm Spellman and Nichelle Tramble Spellman, who are black, on Confederate. In an interview with NPR, the Spellmans indicated Confederate, too, is meant to examine the present through the eyes of an alternate world — in this case to explore how slavery’s legacy continues to weigh on the country. But HBO’s initial Confederate announcement placed its focus on Benioff and Weiss’s ownership of the project over the Spellmans’ involvement, in contrast to Amazon heralding Black America as McGruder and Packer’s project.

The presence of Amazon’s somewhat similar alternate history project may explain why HBO was so quick to announce Confederate when it won’t be on TV screens before 2019 at the earliest (and it’s far more likely to show up in 2020). Even setting aside Black America’s more utopian vision and completely black creative team, as opposed to Confederate’s more pessimistic vision and Game of Thrones ties, HBO almost certainly wanted to get out ahead of the similar project (which has been in development for over a year, as per Deadline and Packer) in order to avoid looking like it was copying Amazon’s move.

What gives Black America’s premise the edge here is that it’s not telling a story alt-history fans have heard millions of times before. “What if the South won the Civil War?” is one of the two most common scenarios in alternate-history stories, behind only “What if the Nazis won World War II?” (If you’re curious about that one, Amazon has a terrible show for you.) “What if the North won the Civil War but actually carried out appropriate reparations for freed slaves?” has far fewer stories and novels written about it — and that gives McGruder and Packer more room to explore.

Regardless, neither series will exist any time soon. Neither has written, cast, or shot a pilot (though Packer says in the Deadline interview that McGruder is “off and writing” on the project). But given the fact that its producers don’t have to put together the final season of a massive fantasy series as well, Black America would seem to have the edge when it comes to hitting screens first.