C.S.A. The Confederate States of America
Runtime: 1 hr 29 min
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Kevin Willmott
Starring: Rupert Pate, Evamarii Johnson, Larry Peterson
Review by: MiamiMovieCritic
Added: 7 years ago
C.S.A. The Confederate States of America opens with a quote from playwright George Bernard Shaw:
“If you’re going to tell the people the truth, you better make them laugh; otherwise they’ll kill you.”
Writer-director Kevin Willmott then pulls us into a wickedly satirical alternate reality in which the South won the Civil War. Imagine the miniseries Roots directed by Michael Moore and you’ll have a good idea of what C.S.A. looks like.
Using the style developed by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, Willmott (who also provides the voice of Frederick Douglass) assembles archival photographs, live cinematography and interviews with historians to construct a dizzying collage of revisionist history.
C.S.A. purports to be a British documentary airing on Confederate television, complete with commercial interruptions. It takes us right up to the present day, when slavery still exists in America. We see how Gen. Robert E. Lee won the War Between the States, Confederate president Jefferson Davis took over the White House and “Dishonest Abe” fled only to be caught later and convicted of war crimes.
Willmott’s screenplay subtly alters the historical record to reveal disturbing hidden truths. He captures chilling images, such as a Confederate flag flying over the White House.
But the filmmaker shines brightest when he indulges in a bitterly funny lighter side reminiscent of “Chappelle’s Show.”
In the commercial breaks, we see advertisements for products with racist brand names and previews of Confederate television shows, such as a “Cops”-style series where policemen track down runaway slaves. The editors, David Gramley and Sean Blake (who also plays the part of Adolf Hitler), mix in original music, graphics and even traditional animation, lending the commercials a distinctive comic edge.
In a great scene, the director and his cinematographer, Matt Jacobson, recreate the aesthetic of ‘50s science-fiction movies as a man confesses his abolitionist politics to his horrified wife. It’s a witty and thought-provoking parody of the anxieties of the Atomic Age.
Willmott also pokes fun at former President George W. Bush. John Ambrose Fauntroy V (played by Larry Peterson) is a good old boy in a cowboy hat running for president and espousing “family values.” Be sure to stay through the end credits for his hilarious theme song, “Fauntroy is the Man!”
I’d rank C.S.A. alongside Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Both films tell controversial stories in potent, entertaining ways that serve to deepen our understanding of American history.
C.S.A. is especially remarkable because it was shot entirely in Lawrence, Kansas, with the help of students enrolled in the theater and film department at the University of Kansas.