Of Course HBO Greenlit “Confederate” Because White Guys Get Funding For Every Idea (Even Bad Ones) » VSB

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Of Course HBO Greenlit “Confederate” Because White Guys Get Funding For Every Idea (Even Bad Ones)

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Confederate — the upcoming HBO series from Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss that rewrites history to depict an America where the Confederate states successfully seceded — might actually end up being a good show. I don’t have much faith that it actually will be. This series is a re-imagining of America’s relationship with race, racism, slavery, class, and how each affects the micro, day-to-day minutiae of our existences, our national, cultural, and racial zeitgeists, and our existential understandings of what it means to be “White” and “Black” and “American.” These are canyonesque concepts for anyone to wrestle with — even those who’ve specifically devoted their social, political, professional, and academic lives to studying, examining, deconstructing, and making art about race. And there’s nothing in either Benioff’s or Weiss’s backgrounds or careers that suggests they’re equipped to do so. But, to (mis)quote Calvin Candie, a character from another big-budget re-imagining of slavery, they have my curiosity and my attention. And they might surprise me.

What hasn’t surprised me is that an idea this ambitious from two people who don’t seem to have any real experience with the nuanced and explosive subject matter is getting greenlighted. Because these two people are White men. And White men get their ambitious, insane, reckless, and inane ideas funded all of the fucking time. They get money for TV shows and movies no one will watch. Investments in start-ups no one asked for. Funding for apps no one will use. Loans for restaurants no one will eat at. Grants for condominium complexes no one will live in. Capital for websites no one will visit. Deals for books no one will read.

Bari Williams examined this phenomenon a couple months ago.

Women start companies at twice the rate of men, yet women comprise only 16% of tech founders According to a study by First Round Capital, founding teams including a woman outperform their all-male peers by 63%, but female CEOs get only 2.7% of all venture funding, while women of color get virtually none: 0.2%.

The fact that black women are educated and entrepreneurial yet so underfunded is a confluence of broadening thoughts of diversity, use of technology, and economic policy. The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 increased limits for tax write-offs for startups, such as the ability to deduct cell phone bills and depreciation, and health care costs. This was great news for black women, who tend to be younger when they found their companies, have more debt, and less access to capital. Black women have greater difficulty receiving funding from investors and creditors, and difficulty securing lending due to racial bias.

But tax write-offs don’t make up for the funding gap. When black women are funded, they get the short end of the stick, with the average raise round totaling just $36,000. Compare that figure to the composite of the average white male startup founder, who banks an average of $1.3 million in funding. The secondary problem with not receiving mainstream large VC funding? Scaling.

While the focus here is Black women in tech, this standard transcends fields. It exists in media and entertainment. In real estate and academia. In for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations. Forget about getting into the door. We — and “we” in this context is “anyone who isn’t a White male” — need to produce all types of evidence and receipts and successes in order to just get an email reply. While White men are allowed to fail. Repeatedly. And given more leeway to dream up new and random-ass shit because they know if they keep getting shots at the dartboard, they’ll eventually hit the target. Which results in a self-fulfilling circle jerk where White dudes get the money because investors trust them more than anyone else because White dudes’ successes are more spectacular because White dudes get more chances to be spectacular because White dudes get the money because investors trust them more than anyone else.

Still, maybe Confederate will surprise us. Who knows? But I do know that if it crashes and burns, Benioff and Weiss will get another chance. And another chance after that chance. And another chance after that chance. And another…

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • Initially, I was intrigued by the idea of the show–and I do think it is worth mentioning one of the executive producers is a black woman, Nichelle Spellman, as is Malcolm Spellman of Empire. Intrigued in that knee-jerk “oh that’s kind of an interesting premise to consider….for five seconds.”

    Then I started thinking about how in the entire run of Game of Thrones–which I will both critique and stan for simultaneously–there has been an abysmally small casting of black people (or any people of color) in lead or secondary roles or roles that didn’t involve them being lying charlatans, servants and slaves, or pirates. And now, Weiss/Benoiff are going to start producing a show that will, assumedly, be filled with roles for black people. And they’re all gonna get to be slaves.

    Black people are so rarely invited to be cast as kings or nobles or dragon queens. But there will always be slave stories for us to fill because that’s the one thing, according to pop culture, you cannot be race-blind about. As interesting as I heard Underground was, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. I’m over slave narratives. I’m tired of our most celebrated roles being reflections of the worst fucking time we ever had in America.

    • Brooklyn_Bruin

      ” I do think it is worth mentioning one of the executive producers is a black woman, Nichelle Spellman, as is Malcolm Spellman of Empire”

      I’m not sure of this endorses what they do or detracts.

      • I didn’t mean to imply it does either or. But if we’re going black women in entertainment, I think it should be noted there is a black woman involved in this project. If anything, it opens up another topic of discussion of black people (producers, writers, and actors) being involved in the perpetuation of “We can only be Slaves” perception of black narratives.

        • Brooklyn_Bruin

          You’re a much more positive person than I am.

  • La Lotus

    I love Damon’s writing and this article: https://www.nylon.com/articles/rise-black-women-film-critics

  • Hsquared

    I don’t believe there will be anything surprises here. There’s a heavy investment in white innocence in regards to race. This show won’t likely succeed unless that innocence is a prominent feature. Most likely these guys know this.

    • clownFace Prod.

      Yup. The main character will, of course, be the ONE white male in the South who actually wants slavery to end and the series will do nothing but show us how hard it is for him seeing all that slavery. Poor thing.

      • Hsquared

        Or the ONE white man who treats his slaves “well”.

        • Tam

          But they are still slaves or are we going to call them servants or unpaid interns/apprentices?

        • clownFace Prod.

          Oh yeah, there’ll be the scene where one of his sons is about to rape a slave, then he comes in and stops him and tells her to put her clothes back on. What a hero.

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        Gotta have one got female white racist. Think Joan Holloway from Mad Men or Baroness from GI Joe

      • Monica Harris

        This is exactly what is going to happen. Which is why I’ll pass. These shows are for white guilt. So they can say “I would have been one of the good ones.”

  • Brooklyn_Bruin

    But their handling of people of color has been so good on Game of Thrones. /s

    • Tam

      I mean they are so visible

    • “Art is not a democracy. People don’t get to vote on how it ends.” GRRM.

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        Art is subject to the market, something GRRM knows all too well. He’s mad that some of the choices D&D made didn’t go far enough.

  • mr. steal your costco samples


  • cysinblack

    White people will white. HBO had the foresight to deny Ryan Murphy Feud for their network and it stunk to high heaven on FX. This series could be huge on a streaming platform. But on a premium cable channel broadcast for all this is irresponsible and horrifying.

  • NomadaNare

    “While the focus here is Black women in tech, this standard transcends fields. It exists in media and entertainment. In real estate and academia. In for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations. Forget about getting into the door. We — and “we” in this context is “anyone who isn’t a White male” — need to produce all types of evidence and receipts and successes in order to just get an email reply. While White men are allowed to fail. Repeatedly.”

    THIS times infinity

    I was just lamenting this phenomenon with tech most recently with the Blue Apron IPO and Juciero

    As a business plan Blue Apron is a dumb idea (yes even if you use it) because the mark up on food you still have to sink time into cooking is way too high

    Factor in customer acquisition retention and delivery logistics on persishables and its no wonder that the company has *never* turned a profit yet it got to the IPO stage

    Juicero is an entire company of people that missed the fact that you dont really need a $400 machine to press prepackaged juice packets

    • NonyaB?

      I get my life from cackling at the demise of douchebros’ companies (lest we forget Juicero started @ $700, is now $200 and just cut 25% staff). It’s also annoying to think of how many other better companies could have sprung up if they got just a fraction of the funding a Juicero got. The misbehaving VCs being exposed for s•x harassment is also heartening, especially given that many(most?) of their victims are POC.

      • HoneyRose

        Or how much of the world we could help. The douchebros are creating things that only help themselves – there are dozens of services to get maid service or a instant taxi or $15 meals delivered to your home, but as far as I know nothing to deliver mosquito nets to the places that need them or develop latrines to scale so girls in resource-poor nations can go to school.

    • lunanoire

      “Brad” is judged on his potential, while the rest of us better have CVS-length receipts.

    • HoneyRose

      I tried Blue Apron for a few weeks. I canceled it a couple weeks ago. The idea sounds great at first, but really you end up spending just as much time cooking – longer, actually, since you are cooking new recipes 3 times a week. You get less food, the seasoning is pretty bland, and the costs and the waste it produces are ridiculous. It’s far cheaper to buy a couple cookbooks or find some recipes online and try new stuff with your own groceries.

      If they had completed some of the prep steps ahead of time that might be more appealing.

  • Ladydayle


    “Which results in a self-fulfilling circle jerk where White dudes get the
    money because investors trust them more than anyone else because White
    dudes’ successes are more spectacular because White dudes get more
    chances to be spectacular because White dudes get the money because
    investors trust them more than anyone else.”

    Too much real in one sentence.

  • The show itself is something I need to reserve judgment on. It could be trash, or it could be the most woke show ever. Though part of me wants someone who isn’t either White or Black to be showrunners for this because they’d see some BS we wouldn’t pick up on and blow it up.

    As for the larger venture funding issue, that’s a capital P problem. I don’t know enough about finance to really fix it, but from what little I’ve seen around the phenomenon, it’s very much a social issue and socially oriented. On one hand, so much of finance is built around sociability and relationships, and structural racism means that White guys will get the benefit of the doubt on that. On the flip side, there are also fewer businesses not run by White guys that are taking big shots. For example, part of my consulting side hustle deals directly with university tech transfer offices looking for a rock-it-or-drop-it for their next big technology. While I’ve dealt with universities across the US, the next HBCU giving me a check will be the first.

    I wish I had a big picture answer. The best I can do is fix my little corner of the universe.

    • Darkchloe144

      What if the lead was native American?

    • LadySiriboe

      What’s wrong with a black showrunner?!?!

      • What I don’t want is Underground 2.0. Either let the people speak or chill. I don’t want a remix.

        • LadySiriboe


        • MsSula

          Have you watched Underground?

          • No. It’s on my long list of shows I haven’t gotten around to watching.

            • MsSula

              So you can’t voice judgement on a show you have never seen. Now can you?

        • John Shannon

          No- what is worse is Underground got cancelled but THIS B.U.L.L.S.H.I.T. gets greenlit to actually be made, as if the Original Birth of a Nation was never created in the first place……

    • Brooklyn_Bruin

      In terms of creation of black art, the price of production has come down. And there is crowd funding..see my boy LeSean Thomas making his own anime series.

      In terms of getting them big white dollars….*crickets*

      • cysinblack

        Brad Pitt is the only white ally in town. Plan B: 12 Years a Slave, Selma, Moonlight.

        • Brooklyn_Bruin

          Ain’t Bradley Cooper getting a cookout invite?

          • cysinblack


            • Brooklyn_Bruin

              He was at the BET/Obama night of blackness. I figured Shelly had to give him a cosign.

              • cysinblack

                No. Unless you put in the work I don’t want you around.

                • clownFace Prod.

                  White people can’t wait to get credit for brining the Acme pre-cartoned potato salad. Literally and figuratively.

                  • cysinblack

                    Provocative avatar on your end. Fits your handle.

      • Crowd funding is tricky. It’s really, really hard to crowdfund as a Black artist if what you’re trying to make isn’t something that will necessarily resonate with Black audiences.

        • Brooklyn_Bruin

          I’ve seen black creators do it repeatedly. It comes down to what your product looks like and how much you spent on promoting your cause. Most folks fail with one or both.

          • I’m not saying it’s impossible or doesn’t happen. People are less inclined in general to donate to a Black product than a white product even if they’re both seemingly equal in quality.

            • Brooklyn_Bruin

              They won’t buy iPods if they see black hands on eBay. Like driving through the South, can’t let sky being blue stop folks.

              The problem I have as a media connoisseur is black owned and black financed stuff is typically Tyler Perry type stuff. That’s a whole other discussion about black audiences.

              I just know that rarely am I ever written for. Atlanta might be the closest thing I’ve ever seen TV wise.

              Good thing hip hop exists

              • Absolutely. Film and TV have very narrow depictions largely with very few outliers (even high quality ones) that attempt to embark on a different path.

                • Brooklyn_Bruin

                  Wish we could talk about the numerical problem of the black audience. The market requires blockbusters, which leads to white audiences to superheroes and black audiences to our more down to earth versions. The sheer # of white folks allows for diversity in creation.

                  • Absolute and the only way to really go after blockbuster production is to curate work that is “for” white audiences. No one is going to invest a huge sum into a Black project.

                    • Brooklyn_Bruin

                      I don’t think my point about black niche markets is coming across.

                      Freestyle Fellowship sold 50k on their first major release. They were promptly dropped. That’s not unreasonable, a lot of white acts got dropped on those #’s. (Though plenty kept getting advances…)

                      But those white acts could tour to all white audiences around the country after getting dropped. Three or four hundred people in every little college town.

                      Black artists have a difficult time repeating that feat. In order to make it in just OUR community, you have to play what the people want. That’s if you want to be a full time artist.

                      At a very high level of abstraction that constrains what an artist can do, and that then affects what our community will actually support. (See Andre and his career)

                      In marketing terms, there are enough revolutionaries and early adopters (able and willing to pay)to support an independent/alternative scene in the white community.

                      White folks have their own little parallel and well financed white worlds. I just saw some stuff about professional tag. WPS.

                      That’s what i seek for our folks.
                      There should be a thriving black artistic community that creates with *no* concern at all for others. Black folks doing black folks, not trying to grab audience or funding.

                      For us, by us.

                      The creation of the works are possible, but getting the work to the right parts of the audience…That’s the issue

              • Well, according to the Census Bureau, there are about 3 million West Indian Black Non-Hispanic people in the US. Only 7 states have above 1% West Indian populations. The frame of reference for a West Indian is radically different from that of an African-American. And we haven’t gotten into education and exposure yet. Like it or not, Tyler Perry IS Middle Black America.

                Source: https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk

                • Brooklyn_Bruin

                  Most of the readership here are Yankees. They aren’t a Tyler Perry Yankees though. They are treated as a monolith still. They often treat themselves as a monolith, but I’m gonna chill on that

                  • The thing as someone with roots on both sides, I kinda get why its such a monolith. There was so much pressure to survive, for one. Two, anyone who stood out ended up dead or having to move and conform someplace else. Jim Crow created a certain African-American culture and mindset that is hard to evade.

    • Queen@

      “The best I can do is fix my little corner of the universe.”

      Going to scribble this on my mirror… in red lipstick.

    • cysinblack

      Nothing is woke about the premise. We’re still living inside Get Out. Stop making excuses for them because you like to deviate from norms.

      • I’m making excuses out of sheer ignorance. I have no idea what these people are planning to do, and just spitballing possibilities. That said, I am nervous whenever people say that These Should Be The Rules Or Else. My gut tells me that at some point, I’ll be the next contestant on the Summerjam screen.

        • cysinblack

          How much does it cost to go on that freak fest retreat?

          • Too much. ;-)

            • cysinblack

              Laughs. You don’t have it in with the organizers?

              • This is my way of pleading the 5th.

                • cysinblack

                  Dude, I’m not attempting to piggyback off you for a ride there and a meet and greet.

    • Alessandro De Medici

      The problem isn’t finance…it’s getting a foot at the table. Which is what we’ve been fighting for. However, the bigger issue, which no matter what anybody says in terms of policy cannot be dealt with is trust. People have to trust you to be willing to risk capital on their venture – meritocracy, qualifications and credentials be dammed.

  • bigheadbaby

    What I get from the press release is that it will compare and contrast two societies: the one below the Mason-Dixon where slavery remained legal and the one above where slavery was outlawed. It will show how these two societies are still butting heads and the conflict within and between these two worlds. It refers to a time when another Civil War will be brewing, so things are not copacetic in these worlds. This has great potential to be a dystopian masterpiece. And I do think they need get some more diverse writers on board, but it could be good. I completely rejected the premise of the tv show Underground when news of it came out, too, but I was so wrong about that show. It can be done well, it remains to be seen if Confederate will be done well, but I will be tuning in to see. If anybody can do it in serial form, HBO can. The kind of devotion to detail and multi-layered storytelling they give us with shows like GOT can be put to use here, I hope they pull out all the stops.

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