Historical Movie Night hypothesizes Confederate nation

Michael Anschutz

A large turn out of over one hundred people came to see Phi Alpha Theta present Kevin Willmott’s film “CSA: The Confederate States of America” last Thursday night Aug. 27.

The film, released in 2004, is a mockumentary that tries to answer the question of what would have happened if the Confederacy had defeated the Union during the American Civil War. Presented as a British documentary being broadcast in the fictional Confederate States of America, the film tells a story of a country where slavery persists into the modern day and shows the audience troubling ways the culture of African-American slavery still exists in our country.

At the end of the film the audience finds out many of the very racist commercials scattered throughout the movie are real products in American history. In fact, Willmott told the audience he had come up with an idea for a “Confederate Life Insurance Company” commercial, but could not use it as there is already an existing company with that name.

Following the movie, Willmott, an associate professor of film and theatre at the University of Kansas spoke about the film, the issues presented in it and took audience questions.

One of his major points was that many of the symbols of the slave-holding Confederacy were brought back into wide spread use in response to the Civil Rights Movement.

Willmott also emphasized that much of the history of racial issues is not known to Americans and that there is still great discomfort just discussing them. He said that Larry Peterson, one of the actors in the film, was fired from his job with Time Warner because a clip of the film was shown during a company event despite the fact Time Warner owned the distributor: IFC Films.

The audience asked questions ranging from the disappearance of black business areas in Topeka, to the motives behind displaying Confederate flags.

On the flag issue, Willmott asserted that he considers the flag a hate symbol but also one of treason to the United States. Even when displayed under the guise of preserving Southern identity, that identity is steeped in fighting against African-Americans gaining civil rights and that the flag cannot be separated from the values of the Confederacy.

Charles Stinson, an undeclared freshman, found out about the movie showing in his WU 101 class and had some experience seeing Confederate flags.

“In high school…there were a lot of people who were coming from the more country style of living and they’d embrace the flag…as their way of saying they live a rebellious lifestyle,” said Stinson.

Heather Shrimplin, junior history major and president of Phi Alpha Theta,¬†Washburn’s Historical Honors Society, also has experience seeing the flag.

“I have seen the Confederate flag many times in Topeka,” Shrimplin said.

She further specified that she had seen it around Seaman High School.

When asked about what she thought upon hearing that the Confederate flag was removed from flying over the South Carolina state house, Shrimplin said, “‘About time,’ it belongs in a museum, we should teach it in our classes…it should not be seen and cherished as gloriously as it was.”

Both Stinson and Shrimplin agreed ‘CSA’ was worth seeing.

“I’ve probably learned more about the issue in this session than I have in years of history classes,” Stinson said.

To students unfamiliar with the film Shrimplin said, “You need to see it.”

Tom Prasch, professor and chair of the history department, explained that the publicity recently concerning the Confederate flag prompted the choice to make Willmott’s film the first shown in Phi Alpha Theta’s series this semester.

Prasch said it both asks the historical question of ‘what if,’ but also makes the case that the South won the Civil War by perpetuation of aspects of slave holding culture in America.

When asked what he hoped Washburn students would take from the film, Prasch said, “I’d want them to think about all those examples that Kevin Willmott used in the advertisements…where else might these vestiges of our racist past still be haunting us?”

Prasch also noted that Willmott has an upcoming movie, “Chiraq,” that examines gun violence in Chicago and which follows the plot of the classic Greek play “Lysistrata.”

Those interested in Phi Alpha Theta’s movie series should know that showings are approximately once a month. Information can be found on the group’s Facebook page, the bulletin board outside the history department and from flyers posted on campus.