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Responding to backlash, producers of HBO's 'Confederate' promise it's not a typical slavery story

HBO is developing a modern-day slavery drama with a sci-fi spin -- and the Internet is not having it.

The new show, titled "Confederate," will be helmed by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss -- the famed showrunner duo behind "Game of Thrones," both of whom are white men.

Gearing up for what HBO's Wednesday announcement called the Third American Civil War, "Confederate" takes place in a grisly dystopia wherein America's Southern states successfully seceded from the union, "giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution."

The announcement received loads of immediate backlash from fans and critics alike, many of whom recognized the potentially pernicious irony of two white men creating a television series about slavery. (Benioff and Weiss are no strangers to this sort of pushback; the team has been criticized in the past for the lack of diversity on "GoT.")

“Give me the confidence of white showrunners telling HBO they wanna write slavery fanfic,” tweeted journalist Pilot Viruet. Author Roxane Gay felt similarly exasperated, writing, “It is exhausting to think of how many people at HBO said yes to letting two white men envision modern day slavery. And offensive."

As for the inspiration behind "Confederate," Benioff said he had always wondered what might have become of America had the South won the Civil War. "That just always fascinated me," he said. 

Benioff and Weiss -- as well as their creative partners, the husband-and-wife team of writer-producers Malcolm Spellman and Nichelle Tramble Spellman -- spoke with Vulture to explain themselves. The negative reaction, they said, was exactly what they had expected.

"Oh, yeah. We all knew it was coming in one form or another," said Benioff. "I remember the very first time we talked about this, one of the first things that came up was … Malcolm said, what was it?"

“You’re dealing with weapons-grade material here," Spellman chimed in. 

And perhaps that's why the Spellmans' involvement is so crucial. Though their presence on the show's creative team might have been partially eclipsed by the arguably more famous Benioff and Weiss, their partnership is quite notable. The Spellmans, who are black, have firmly expressed their intentions to avoid the typical exploitative, damaging slave narrative. 

Malcolm Spellman took to Twitter earlier this week, assuring concerned critics that "Confederate" will not be about "whips and plantations." Instead, he told Vulture, they'll focus on the fact that the show is rooted in science fiction.

"I think what was interesting to all of us was that we were going to handle this show, and handle the content of the show, without using typical antebellum imagery," Tramble Spellman said. "This is present day, or close to present day, and how the world would have evolved if the South had been successful seceding from the union."

Malcolm Spellman echoed his wife's point:

"[W]hat people have to understand is, and what we are obligated to repeat in every interview is: We've got black aunties. We've got black nephews, uncles. Black parents and black grandparents. We deal with them every single day. We deal with the struggle every single day. And people don't have to get on board with what we're doing based on a press release.

"But when they're writing about us, and commenting about us, they should be mindful of the fact that there are no sellouts involved in this show," he added. "Me and Nichelle are not props being used to protect someone else. We are people who feel a need to address issues the same way they do, and they should at least humanize the other end of those tweets and articles."

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