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Will Birmingham’s Sordid Past Finally Pay Off?

  |   By: Dave Folk     |   Opinion

The story blew up social media like well, a bomb. News that AMC, the station behind hits like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead; was to produce a TV series set in Birmingham. You’d think that everyone would rejoice over the spotlight finding the Magic City, but reaction was mixed. Trepidation came with good reason. After all, the show’s working title is Bombingham.

The Birmingham Business Journal reported on the premise of the show, and I’ll give you three hints as to what it’s about: “The fragile peace in present-day Birmingham, Alabama is shattered when a murderer from 1963 is discovered and buried demons from the Civil Rights Era resurface.”

Oh, racism. Here I thought the inner-politics of an storied defense contractor and it’s hidden past of corporate espionage were to be featured. Nope, the thing Birmingham is regrettably most known for has a chance to recapture the nation’s attention. Dead horse, prepare to be beaten.

Is this stallion dead though? Can Birmingham’s sordid past end up molding a respectable future?

The first, and really the only time, Birmingham comes up in schools outside of Alabama is when civil rights time comes around. Four dead angels, fire hoses and foundations built from prejudice is the introduction the majority of American children get to this fair town.

So why are we still talking about it if everyone already knows the role Birmingham played in the war for civil rights? For starters, it’s compelling drama. Over the last few years blockbuster movies such as The Butler and 12 Years a Slave have found box office success by telling the tales of the oppressed. AMC has reason to believe that people are ready to watch TV about racial inequality, and they’re gonna strike while the iron is hot.

Some believe that Birmingham should ignore this chapter in its history and refuse to acknowledge what happened. That thinking is naive because a lot of good can come from memorability, no matter how nefarious it is.

All we know about the show is that it will involve racial tensions in some manner. It could be a great story about the dichotomy of the younger progressive generations, and the more entrenched older generations. It could paint a portrait of Birmingham like The Wire sketched Baltimore. It could also be filled with racist caricatures and set the city back further than even our own elected officials work to. Point being, before we decree this as awful we should give it a chance to make it’s case.

Even if it portrays this city and its inhabitants in a terrible misguided light, it really can’t do anything but help us. I’d rather everyone know Birmingham, even if it is for a tragic past, than for people to ask, “where?”

Heck our city motto could be: “Come for the racism, stay for the hospitality!” We could plaster it over that awful Pepsi sign.

Follow Dave on Twitter at @davefolk

Dave Folk is a yankee transplant living in Birmingham, Alabama.