If you want to know whether you can still laugh while your mouth is dropping open in shock, then you won’t want to miss the disturbingly hilarious mock documentary C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America. It’s a fearless and brilliant racial-historical satire, done in a meticulous re-creation of the Ken Burns mode, that chronicles the last 150 years of America as if the South had won the Civil War. That’s right: Jefferson Davis gets elected president, Lincoln escapes in blackface with the aid of Harriet Tubman (”We both n—–s now, Mr. President!”), and slavery is established throughout the land. The writer-director, Kevin Willmott, works with a scandalous daring matched by his dexterous manipulation of archival reality. He mixes photographs and films, historical figures actual and fake, plus talking heads and sick-joke racist commercials until fact and fiction eerily merge.
A snippet from a D.W. Griffith film depicting Lincoln’s capture is tastelessly funny, but later, an ”actual” 1905 clip of the forgotten former president has a haunting plausibility. C.S.A., like Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, is a dense counterhistory that ingeniously undermines your disbelief. As the Confederate States turns into a domesticated haven of white supremacy, even signing a truce with Hitler during World War II, the movie gets you to think, Could this actually have happened? The audacious upshot of C.S.A. is that in a place with the still-thriving racial demons of America, it sort of did.