HBO CEO Richard Plepler On ‘Confederate’ Backlash: “We Screwed Up”

Richard Plepler

Back in July, HBO announced the new drama series Confederate from Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and DB Weiss – and a huge backlash immediately followed. Speaking at the Vanity Fair summit on Tuesday, HBO CEO Richard Plepler said of the press release announcement, “We screwed up in an important way.”

With Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman, who are black, writing alongside Benioff and Weiss, Confederate apparently will depict a third American Civil War in an alternative reality, in which the South has separated itself and slavery has continued. Negative reactions to the concept included a Twitter campaign #NoConfederate by activist April Reign, who also started #OscarsSoWhite in 2015. Reign urged HBO viewers to tweet #NoConfederate during a Game of Thrones broadcast.

The show’s concept, Plepler further explained, was about “showing what we call the thin line, the thin veneer of civilization – that’s what we were meant to explore. Where we screwed up was we tried to explain a complicated subject in a press release in three paragraphs.”

HBO’s president of programming Casey Bloys said something similar when he addressed the controversy at TCA, calling the decision to issue a press release for Confederate “misguided.”

“A lie goes halfway around the world before the truth puts its boots on,” Plepler said, “and we bear some of the responsibility for that.”

Plepler added that HBO’s intent was to bring people together, not divide them. “We have a long tradition through our documentaries, through our film, of trying to bring the capacity of people to see other people in a more profound way, to the table, and we use our documentaries and our films to try to do that. Creative producers have always known that was part of our way, and that’s why they come to us to do that.”

HBO might be trying to show its good intentions more in the future. Plepler said the network would be releasing its new Sonja Sohn-directed documentary Baltimore Rising online for free. The film, “looks inside the culture of Baltimore as it resurrects itself after the Freddie Gray murder,” Plepler said, “and we’re going to give that film away, we’re going to put it online so people can see it whether they’re a subscriber or not.”

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