NYC's Dalton School Apologizes for Showing Movie Satirizing Slavery
New York City's posh Dalton School has apologized for screening a movie about what would happen if the South had won the Civil War, featuring ads making light of the continued existence of slavery.
The film, C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, was shown to sophomores during a presentation of history projects on Monday, according to the New York Times. After the film's edgy and comical treatment of slavery led to complaints, the school met with students and parents to apologize.
The 2004 movie, directed by University of Kansas professor Kevin Willmott and distributed by IFC Films, is a mockumentary set 150 years after Ulysses S. Grant surrenders to Robert E. Lee. The film features altered footage and spoof advertisements for slavery-related products.
The C.S.A. trailer features a Home Shopping Network-like channel devoted to selling slaves and a commercial marketing a "revolutionary new way of servant monitoring."
It also proposes an alternate view of history in which Abraham Lincoln was convicted of war crimes and Martin Luther King Jr. was born a slave.
"We believe in the highest levels of respect and sensitivity for the diverse nature of our student body and community," Dalton head Ellen Cohen Stein said in a statement obtained by the Times. "Monday's screening should not have taken place, and we sincerely regret that the film was shown."
Willmott told The Hollywood Reporter that his film is often shown in classrooms and "this is the first time I've ever heard of any issues with it." He says that the point of the film was to make people uncomfortable, and when that feeling occurred, a dialogue should have begun among the students that saw the movie.
"When people started to say, 'That made me feel a little uncomfortable as someone was laughing, and I didn't think it was that funny,' that's when you have the dialogue," Willmott explained. "That's where the dialogue kicks in. That's where you explain what happened in real history and all of the things that should be talked about in terms of race in this country, and that's obviously not what happened."
Willmott added that the fact that there was an issue with the film says a lot about how race is dealt with in the U.S.
"There's really no excuse why they had an issue with the film, he said. "It just says a lot about the fact that we live in a country where the minute that you get close to dealing with race in a real way, people get really frightened...As this incident kind of reveals, race makes us uncomfortable and we don't know how to deal with it very well. And the minute you start to deal with it, there's a line that you can't really cross. And to me, that's the problem."
He noted that he sometimes gets complaints from Confederate re-enactors who think he's attacking the South.
"But the fact that this is coming from New York City lets you know that there's another side of the problem as well," he added.
Willmott's film was well reviewed, currently boasting a 78 percent freshness rating on RottenTomatoes.com. The San Francisco Chronicle called it a "brilliant and irresistible counterfactual overview of American history," while The Boston Globe called it "an act of provocation that's sheer genius in its conceptual simplicity."
Dalton has a number of famous alumni, including CNN's Anderson Cooper and Claire Danes.
Watch the C.S.A. trailer below.