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Friday, March 24, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"The Plot Against America": If things had turned South ...

Special to The Seattle Times

As with Philip Roth's recent novel "The Plot Against America," in which a Nazi-sympathizing Charles Lindbergh becomes president, Kevin Willmott's "CSA: The Confederate States of America" is an alternative-history nightmare that speculates what might have happened had the wrong side won a battle for the soul of the United States.

"CSA" is presented as a faux (if authentic-looking) British television documentary about America's Civil War — won by the South, lost by the North — and the nation's subsequent political and cultural history.

While one might assume the film simply offers a mirror-image version of the U.S. as we know it today, Willmott (co-writer of the NBC miniseries "The '70s") is more thoughtful than that. His vision is of an America that never corrected its original contradiction as a democracy with slaves, and therefore never wrestled with racial barriers to full citizenship and prosperity well into modern times.

Movie review 4 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"CSA: The Confederate States of America," with Evamarii Johnson, Rupert Pate, Larry Peterson, Charles Frank. Written and directed by Kevin Willmott. 89 minutes. Not rated; contains brief glimpses of archival photos of lynchings. Guild 45th.

Thus, when the Confederacy won the Civil War — burning down New York, forcing Abraham Lincoln to flee to Canada and making Jefferson Davis president of the CSA — the eventual Reconstruction of the North was based, in part, on tax breaks given to whites for reinstituting slavery.

Through mock interviews and film clips, archival footage given a creative spin and even fake commercial breaks interrupting the TV presentation, "CSA" shows us racism never disappeared from the North and that a slave-based economy can rationalize itself anywhere.

There's a lot more to "CSA," including food for thought about America's place in the larger world had the Confederacy prevailed.

Willmott could have easily stumbled over his own cleverness but, as with the rest of the movie, his fantasia is intellectually rigorous and makes for stimulating debate.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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