On black folks and 'Game of Thrones': We've helped its success, is it time to divest?
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Opinion , Television

On black folks and 'Game of Thrones': We've helped its success, is it time to divest?

In the midst of its summer lineup of hits all returning within seven days of each other, HBO experienced a bump in the road toward the end of their otherwise successful week once the announcement of their forthcoming alt-history drama, Confederate, was met with backlash from pretty much anyone with the good sense to recognize a bad idea.

With Game of Thrones’ David Benioff and D.B. Weiss as its showrunners and creators, Confederate is set to imagine a world wherein the Confederacy won the Civil War and slavery was never abolished.

Of the many transgressions that tone deaf Hollywood types have committed over the years, “what if slavery still existed,” as if the prison-industrial complex doesn’t, is perhaps one of the whitest, most privileged thoughts a person could ever conceive. Subsequently, while discussing the well-earned firestorm with Vulture, Benioff offered perhaps one of the whitest, most privileged responses a person could ever belabor—”you know, we might fuck it up. But we haven’t yet.”

Everything about what Benioff and Weiss are proposing to do with Confederate is a problem—but still, black folks will tune into Thrones this Sunday and every other Sunday for the remaining two seasons. And there’s absolutely no shame in that, even though there probably should be.

Photo: HBO Photo: HBO

Given Benioff and Weiss’ future endeavors, and the sole representations of people of color on their current show being slaves, savages, and silent bodyguards, black folks have every reason to no longer watch Thrones. No one of any measurable decency would blame a person for opting out of an experience wherein they feel belittled and ignored.

But on the flip side, there is something to be said of how much fun we’ve had on Game of Thrones Sundays these past six springs (with this season being the lone summer run).

For years, we’ve proven to Nielsen and the Box Office that black audiences are far from monolithic. Which is why some of us have been turned off by Thrones’ lack of diversity more viscerally than others.

As fans, it’s obvious we have dynamic interests. What’s also obvious is among those interests is some down-home drama—and Game of Thrones may be one of the messiest dramas of the 21st century.

Aside from the tiresome trope of slavery and white saviorism, Thrones includes many elements similar to those of our other favorite “guilty pleasure” shows, so we might as well add it to the list.

If we’re keeping it a buck, with all the betrayal, infidelity, and an often times tragic lack of chill, most Game of Thrones episodes play like Love & Hip-Hop: Winterfell or Real Housewives of Westeros. Some of the shadiest lines ever written for television have been delivered on this show.

“I wonder if you’re the worst person I’ve ever met. At a certain age, it’s hard to recall. But the truly vile do stand out” is either some Cersei shade, courtesy of Lady Olenna, or an oddly eloquent Karlie Redd quote aimed at Joseline.

Aside from the fact that Joanne the Scammer’s wig has yet to be photoshopped onto Little Finger’s head, what’s most disappointing about the lack of diversity on Thrones is Cersei’s embodiment of Tiffany Pollard is merely in spirit and not in likeness.

Moreover, with her and Jaime’s twincest being the catalyst for what ultimately turned out to be a delightfully petty web of death and deceit, much of the story’s initial plot reads like New York barbershop gossip:

“Aight so boom, shorty married the king, but she been creeping with her weirdo twin brother for dumb long. They had three illegitimate kids, but passed them off as dude’s heirs so they can be insestious in peace and shit. One day, they took a trip up north to visit the king’s mans or whatever. His name is Eddard, but they call him Ned because apparently Eddard wasn’t embarrassing enough. But anyway, shit is wild boring up there, so they snuck off to the highest room in the tallest tower on some ol’ Shrek shit and started smashing. Ned’s son scaled the tower like Peter Parker searching for Tony Stark’s approval and peeped the whole shit, though. So then Jaime, the dude twin, pushed lil man off the ledge and crippled him for the rest of his life—so until he turn thirty or something. Eventually, Ned found out why his son got Jazzy Jeff’d out a window and was like nah fuck that I’m telling the king his kids ain’t his kids. Ah ah ah, a handful of episodes later, one of them kids chopped Ned’s head smooth off in broad day and now it’s a whole ass war in Westeros!...oh, and now dragons and ice zombies want smoke too. I don’t know. Shit is kind of crazy now that I’m saying this out loud.”

That’s right. Never forget almost everything of consequence that has ever happened on this show not involving a dragon or a White Walker was a result of Robert Baratheon having more kids than Stevie J, with not a damn one belonging to his actual wife.

For over six seasons, uncomfortable imagery and all, the drama has been irresistible. To this day, even after the controversy surrounding Confederate, we’re still patiently waiting for Bran to reach Winterfell and spill the tea on Jon Snow’s parentage like Wendy Williams on a Monday morning.

Like watching Maury in the waiting area of the dentist’s office as opposed to the shameless comfort of your own home, Thrones only feels problematic when you consider the context in which we consume it.

Given David Benioff and D.B Weiss’ apparent unwillingness to conjure a fantasy wherein black people are more than slaves, continuing the longstanding tradition of white filmmakers employing slavery as some sort of plaything to imagine harrowing adventures instead of genocidal slaughter, it’s hard to do anything other than applaud someone for walking away from Game of Thrones.

But for those of us who intend to stick with this show throughout the war for the dawn, there’s no doubt we’ll receive every delicious bit of drama we pay our HBO subscriptions for—even though the moral cost of that investment remains to be seen.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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