Sunday, February 12, 2012

Review: "C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America" is Unforgettable

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 198 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (2004)
Running time: 90 minutes (1 hour, 30 minutes)
Not rated by the MPAA
PRODUCER: Rick Cowan
EDITORS: Sean Blake and David Gramly


Starring: Evamarii Johnson, Larry Peterson, Patti Van Slyke, and Rupert Pate

Writer/director Kevin Willmott’s blistering comedy, C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, is a so-called “mockumenatry” (a mock documentary). Willmott (an assistant professor at the University of Kansas) puts forth a provocative vision in which the South (or the Confederacy or the Confederate States of America) won the Civil War (the War Between the States?), and slavery is still legal and liberals and free blacks have fled to Canada.

In this film within a film, a C.S.A. television station, Channel 6, decides to show the controversial British documentary, C.S.A., a documentary history of the Confederate States of America, which begins with the Civil War and ends in present day C.S.A. In between the documentary, the station broadcasts commercial advertisements for a number of products with racist brand names and logos and/or inherently racist in nature as they are geared towards pacifying slaves (including a prescription drug available from veterinarians, Contrari, which makes troublesome darkies docile). The C.S.A. documentary features archival footage of the capture of the disposed Union President Abraham Lincoln (in black face and on the run with Harriet Tubman), of the C.S.A. conquering Latin America and exporting its own brand of apartheid there, and of a C.S.A. alliance with Adolf Hitler, among other things.

The best-known “mockumentary” is probably This is… Spinal Tap. Christopher Guest, one of Spinal Tap’s co-creators, has also directed a trio of critically acclaimed mockumentaries including the recent Oscar-nominated A Mighty Wind (a fourth is due Fall 2006). Other examples of mockumentaries are CB4 and Fear of a Black Hat. While C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America is in the tradition of the aforementioned films, it more closely resembles two Robert K. Weiss-produced comedies, The Kentucky Fried Movie and Amazon Women on the Moon both in tone and in temperament. The alternative racial history aspect of C.S.A. is very much like some of pseudo-historical sketches from Dave Chappelle’s now-defunct Comedy Central series, “Chappelle’s Show,” like the one in which black Americans received reparations for slavery.

C.S.A. is, in the end, its own beast. Using humor, some of it relentlessly scathing and much of it surprisingly droll, Willmott comments on more than just race (read: skin color), racism, and race relations in the United States with the C.S.A. as an allegorical stand in. Willmott also discusses imperialism, war, greed, nationalist propaganda, crass commercialism, and ethnic and religious bigotry. Many of the racist products featured in the faux commercials are actual racist products from American history including the ones for the fried chicken franchise, Coon Chicken Inn, and the furniture polish, the Gold Dust Twins.

Keeping in mind what George Bernard Shaw said about using comedy to tell truths because it keeps the audience from killing the storyteller (which Willmott quotes at the beginning of this movie), Willmott exposes the ugly truths about bigotry, doing it all with a disarming sense of humor. Some people will automatically be defensive about this film (especially hypersensitive white Southerners), but this is simply an excellent political and social comedy. It stumbles a bit, and its low budget only occasionally hurts the movie. Still, C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America is an exceptional, offbeat film for those with a taste for black, bold and outspoken.

7 of 10

Sunday, September 17, 2006

You can watch C.S.A. on Amazon's PRIME VIDEO.


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