3 Alternative History Timelines That Are Way Better Than 'Confederate'

In light of the controversy around HBO's new show 'Confederate,' this contributor gives us better timelines that should be picked up instead.

DIASPORA—I am almost certain that HBO and its artistic partners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, creators of the hit series Game of Thrones did not predict the backlash that has accompanied the announcement of their new project, Confederate—a series, which according to the press release, “takes place in an alternative timeline where the southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution.”

While cities of the short-lived confederacy like New Orleans, Richmond, and Charlottesville have kept demolition crews busy unmounting monuments to an acrimonious past, the network that recently gave us Insecure and The Defiant Ones has been busy stewing fodder for the Richard Spencer and neo-confederate “it’s not racism, it’s tradition” crowd.

Confederate comes barely a year after the release of Ava DuVernay’s outrage inducing 13TH. Named for the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which freed enslaved Africans, DuVernay’s documentary was a scathing examination of the disproportion number of African-Americans incarcerated in the U.S. criminal justice system; a system which some argue is a modern rendition of antebellum sensibilities.

Artistic license notwithstanding, HBO’s decision to develop Confederate couldn’t be more untimely, especially when one considers that in the backdrop of this Strom Thurmond wet dream of a series is an administration that seems bent on undoing some of the progress made to address the country’s history of racial injustice.

If the appointment of a Klan-friendly gnome as the country’s top law-enforcement official does not compel Confederate creators to reconsider the ramifications of how their creative endeavor would be read by the different constituencies battling for the American narrative, perhaps the ensuing backlash might force them to reconsider.

While I understand that HBO is primarily answerable to its shareholders and probably doesn’t give a fuck whether or not this creative endeavor emboldens latter-day wizards of the David Duke School of Hate, or pisses off some dreadlocked writer subsisting on the margins of mainstream US discourse, I have taken it upon myself to concoct a few pitches for its competitors framed around alternative timelines.


What if none of the white people who sailed to the West African shore never lived to tell their story. In that alternative timeline, the Oyo, Asante, Mende, Fang, Bakongo and Duala ally to defend their territories against peddlers of human cargo. What if, rather than genuflect to the whims of these bible bearing hunters of men, the Oonis, Obas, Emirs, and Asantehene conspire to build a wall so formidable not even their biggest cannons could blast past it.

THE FORT could chronicle events leading up to the partition of rogue states like Holland, Portugal, Spain, England and France by an alliance of African powers and their strategic partners in the Indian subcontinent and Ottoman empire. In this reality, monotheism is a crime and bands of savants traverse the Sahara, and Mediterranean to spread the good news of ancestor worship. THE FORT promises to take audiences on an adventure that would imagine outcomes that would challenge their notions of history and human nature. Written Ben Okri, the British-Nigerian magical realist, this series will showcase the work of Laolu Senbanjo, the artist responsible for the body art in Beyoncé’s Lemonade.


What if the Allied powers’ efforts against The Reich’s war machine as it blitzed its way through the Eastern and Western fronts had failed; would the swastika have flown over Red Square? Would Johann Wolfgang von Goethe been the global reference for artistic excellence?

AXIS could chronicle events leading to the “Hot War” that dispossessed colonial powers of their colonies, and re-envisioned a new world order were forced labor of non-AXIS members is a norm. Imagine a world in which Slovakia and Bulgaria are prominent members of the international community. AXIS could follow a group of cartographers from who traverse the globe redrawing boundaries disrupted by the Axis victory in World War 2.

AXIS could be co-written by Kenyan Caine Prize winner Binyavanga Wainana (One Day I Will Write About this Place) and Indian-born Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy (The Ministry of Utmost Happiness). They could also serve as creative consultants to the director, Raoul Peck, whose grasp of historical narratives at the margins of Western civilization is unmatched.


What if Nat Turner’s rebellion had succeeded to mobilize the majority of enslaved Africans in the Mid-Atlantic region to overturn the plantation order? Imagine an alternative timeline in which North America is a balkanized territory where formerly enslaved Africans, with the help of allies in the Republics of Santo Domingo and Jamaica, govern an area where the Scots, Irish, Welsh, Dutch and Southern European people are traded on town squares like beaver pelts.

SOUTHAMPTON could chronicle the events following the declaration of the new republic, which stretches from its northernmost end in Virginia to its southernmost edge in the Florida Keys. The series could be written by Nate Parker, while Spike Lee, known for his fearlessness and decades’ long experience telling difficult stories, could serve as director for what promises to be a fascinating project.

Any takers?

Kangsen Feka Wakai was born in Cameroon. His writings have appeared in Chimurenga’s The Chronic, Transition, Callaloo and Post No Ills Magazine. He lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter @KfWakai.

Photo: courtesy of Natsai Audrey Chieza

100 Women: Natsai Audrey Chieza is Changing the World One Petri Dish at a Time

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textile manufacturing.

The bold jewel tones of OkayAfrica 100 Women honoree Natsai Audrey Chieza's silk scarves aren't the product of hazardous chemicals or silkscreen printing. Instead, they are the product of bacteria. Specifically coelicolor, a strain of bacteria found in soil that happens to excellently synthesize organic chemical compounds. Working in the trade for six years, the Zimbabwean materials designer quickly came to understand why the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Knowing that the most harm occurs during the process of dyeing fabrics, she decided to take action.

Chieza has worked with leading brands such as Microsoft, Nissan, and Unilever to usher in a new approach to science and design. Through her creative R&D; studio Faber Futures, the design innovator uses the process of creating with bacteria to assist in moving mankind away from our fossil fuel dependency. As the biopigment expert put it [last year during her TED talk "Fashion has a pollution problem—can biology fix it?"], in the future we must make sure that we are not "mirroring the destructive legacies of the oil age."

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked spirited conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textiles. Here, Chieza expounds on her start, the pros and cons of creating something new and the urgency of change.

The following has been edited for length and clarity

Akinyi Ochieng for OkayAfrica: STEM and the arts are often conceptualized as separate worlds. However, in your career, you've managed to find the overlap. How did you, a materials designer, end up dabbling in biotechnology?

Natsai Audrey Chieza: I've always really wanted to work within the creative field. I used to work in architecture where I really enjoyed my education in a systems approach to designs and designing for multiple contexts. But I wanted to explore a different side of the design world, so I began exploring the skill and context of material flows, and how technology and futures fits within this framework of how we design.

For my own work and my practice, not having a scientific background made me try things based on what I understood about materials and what I understood about the interactions in which those materials existed in society. I'm interested in a political lens, an economic lens, and how textiles perform in reality. That's not necessarily the approach that a scientist would have taken. Now that's not to say that science isn't important—it's vital. But innovation can occur in that intersection.

Did you go into this thinking, "Oh, I'll figure it out. There must be a path to make this work"?

To be honest, when I started off, the field was not defined. I think I found something really interesting, which was about how biology was becoming a realm of design, and I just explored that as best as I knew how as a designer and non-scientist. It just so happened that around me there was a context that was imagined but enabled me six years later to say, "That's the industry where this work belongs" and stakeholders who give me a space to further my work in a creative and experimental. The path was never anything clear at all. I learned as I grew.

There's a phrase that is often repeated today: "You can't be what you can't see." But you have really created a niche for yourself. What are the benefits of entering an emerging space?

I think what's amazing is not having anyone or anything telling you that what you think is impossible. If you're carving a new territory then you must trust in your instinct and vision to effectively push where the work can be and where it exists. You're not asking permission to do anything. Of course the flip side of that is you have to bring people with you, and so part of you being able to do the work is convincing people that your vision has legitimacy and it's worth exploring, worth taking a risk to look outside of that box.

It's often quite challenging to figure out how to find the strength to push something that hasn't been done before. There's no precedent or rulebook to my work, but sometimes it's really nice to have a rulebook. [Laughs] However, I think it's made me a person who doesn't see challenges as obstacles that are in the way, but more as problems that can be solved. And I think that's the good thing.

Much of your work is about biopigments. What color excites you?

It's not really the colors that excite me. It's color as a cultural context that really fascinates me. I'm really interested in if a microbe is almost like this living factory that produces this pigment, and the technology can be shared and deployed with people as to how you work with it across the world, then what are the cultural interventions that can happen in South Africa versus in Argentina versus in the United Kingdom, based on this common microbe. I think that's always been what interests me the most, the context in which our materials exist. I think a really good example is indigo, and how from Japan to West Africa, indigo is just this really, really rich material, and the process and the craftsmanship that goes into it. I'm interested to see how the future ecology of making arises in response to biotechnologies across the world.

Where do you see yourself and your work evolving in the near or long term?

I'm sort of going through that growth moment where you've been working toward something and then you've arrived at that and you're like, "Right, what's next?" I think I'm fundamentally somebody that wants to use design as a discursive tool to understand how our technologies proliferate. My focus is really on the imagined life sciences and how they're going to become very much a part of all of our lived experiences, and particularly in the context of really urgent changes that are happening from a local level to a global level. From global warming and climate change to resource scarcity across regions, our response to what I think being able to design with living systems, can afford us in the future. So my work really is about understanding how to engage stakeholders across different sectors to grow a consensus around how we're going to leverage these sorts of technologies so that they can be technologies for good. That's really where this is going.

This article appears as part of OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2018—a project highlighting the impactful work done by African women across the globe. Throughout March, we will be publishing a series of profiles, videos, interviews and feature stories on these inspirational women.

Click here to see the entire list of 2018 honorees.

Maia & The Big Sky LP cover.

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The Nairobi-based artist is now sharing the new music video for "Pawa," the album's leading track, which we're premiering here today. Directed by Chris King, the beautiful new clip sees Maia & the Big Sky taking over the TV airwaves and minds of all of those watching, freeing them from the "power" that controls them.

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Photo: Mídia NINJA

The Assassination of Marielle Franco and the Dawn of Brazil's New Civil Rights Movement

Marielle Franco was one of a new generation of black activists trying to overturn Brazil's entrenched and violent racism

The violence in Rio de Janeiro right now is akin to a war zone, with per capita death tolls resembling those from Afghanistan and Syria. Two weeks ago I traveled there for business and stayed in the relatively safe and trendy neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Each night of my stay, was abruptly awaken by long streams of gunshots and also fireworks from the nearby favela of Falett. The fireworks—as I learned from my local friends—were not a result of any celebration, rather a signal that either drugs, guns, or the police have arrived. This is the norm for many of the 763 favelas in Rio which houses nearly 25 percent of the city's population.

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