The Screenwriter of the 'Dukes of Hazzard' Movie on How He Tackled the Confederate Flag Problem
It’s all over the news. The Confederate flag is being taken off the Dukes of Hazzard toys. I gotta tell you, when I wrote Dukes of Hazzard movie in 2005, I thought that the Confederate flag emblazoned on the hood of the flame red ’69 Dodge Charger was going to be a problem. But I put it in anyway.
The development of the "Dukes of Hazzard" movie took a few twists and turns, not unlike the General Lee on a switchback. I had gotten Warner Brothers attention based on a much more indie type script called “To Live and Drive in LA” in which the car chases were meant to be more meta and ironic. But Warner liked the car chases and the writing, so I was hired for a two-picture deal.
It was strongly suggested I try my hand at the Dukes of Hazzard franchise, which the studio saw as potentially a huge summer tentpole. At first, I was a little reticent. I never thought I was a match for this particular project. My mom wouldn’t even let me watch "Dukes of Hazzard" when I was a kid. She said it was too “anti-intellectual.” But it’s not like I let that stop me from watching it, and I’m a pop culture nut, so of course I knew the basics of the show. I asked them, “Are you sure you want a Jewish guy from Boston doing Dukes of Hazzard?” They were sure. They thought I’d bring something unique to the table. I thought it over. One thing that was important to consider. I had a negative bank account balance. Also, I liked cars and I liked cars jumping over obstacles in ways that stretched credibility. So what if I’d never been to the Deep South? I could do this. My mom was not thrilled.
Writing a tentpole movie was a big opportunity, but I was fairly inexperienced. The President of The Dukes of Hazzard Fan Club had a higher salary than I did. (To be fair, he was making 100 grand a year.) But I knew my job was to write a popcorn movie. I didn’t want people to be insulted by the presence of the Confederate flag, which represents racism to a large chunk of the audience. But then I thought about the fans of the show, who, not for nothing, were a much more diverse group than you’d think. The show was network TV. Do you know what character got the most fan mail when the show was on the air? The General Lee. The car.
A large group of people watching the show didn’t associate that flag on this car with slavery. If you thought about it, sure, the Confederate flag is associated with a terrible past but I’d wager most fans didn’t think about that, and didn’t make that connection at all. To them, the General Lee was just a cool racing car that fought the power and drove really fast and somehow saved the family farm each and every week. The social media outrage machine had not yet been invented.
I briefly considered the idea of putting an American flag on the car instead. For maybe a pico-second. The stars and stripes on a car called the General Lee? With a horn that played “Yankee Doodle” instead of “Dixie?” Blasphemy! Still. If the Confederate flag got some people thinking the Duke boys were total racists that would be a problem. And if the fans of the show saw a radically different version of one of the most iconic cars this side of K.I.T, they’d feel gypped. This was supposed to be a fun movie. This wasn’t politics. This wasn’t social commentary. This was about a car that jumped over things for God sakes. I didn’t want anyone to hesitate while eating the popcorn.
So I solved the problem by creating an origin for the most popular character -- the car. This ‘69 Dodge Charger was not initially meant for the Duke boys; it was refurbished by Cooter, the crazy local mechanic. But The Duke boys got in trouble (as is their lot in life) and their other car was already wrecked, so in the middle of a moonless night, they “borrowed” Cooters’ car and then drove all night to Atlanta. In the morning, they found themselves on the highway in heavy traffic, where other drivers yell at them for driving a racist car. It's only then they discover they have a Confederate flag on their roof. And by then, it’s the only car they have. They have to use it. Also, yes, Bo develops sexual feelings for the car. It’s in there. In fact, some would argue those are the only aspects from my draft that made it to final cut. (Like, say, the producer who was horrified to see me attending the premiere.)
I’m telling you all this so that we all keep our cool and decide not to ban this movie. In fact, feel free to enjoy the "Dukes of Hazzard" 2005 movie with no guilt. Watch it tomorrow if you must. Together, we can keep my small but useful residual checks coming in.
More Odds and Ends about my Dukes of Hazzard writing experience.
• At one time, the studio was considering having an African American actor play Boss Hogg. I thought it would be interesting if Boss Hogg had a niece (because in the Dukes world there doesn’t seem to be any immediate family, just uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins) who would be Luke’s love interest.
• My script climaxed with Hazzard County’s annual reenactment of the Battle of Hazzard, a key fictitious Civil War battle that the Confederacy lost. In my story, the Duke boys accidentally drive into the reenactment while being chased by the bad guys. It comes to pass that Luke’s African-American girlfriend must takes the wheel and finds herself mowing down Union troops, reversing the course of fake history and much to her chagrin, single handedly setting the civil rights movements back 150 years.
• I made Cooter an attractive Latina lesbian instead of a white dude. I thought it’d be a hilarious to have a female character named Cooter.
• I hinted that Daisy was bisexual and flirted with both the female Cooter and Deputy Enos. She never chooses anyone, just like she didn’t seem to choose anyone in the show.
• During one action sequence, Daisy is caught between two cars on the open road and her jean hits a snag on the car door. The material unravels, creating short shorts on one end, so she cuts the other end for symmetry. And that was my origin story for the Daisy Dukes.
• In a scene at the Boar’s Nest, a man asks the Duke boys if either of them is dating Daisy. Luke rebukes him. “She’s my cousin!” The man thinks this over for a moment and then asks, “Yeah, but are you dating her?”
• The replacement Dukes, Coy and Vance, make an appearance black sheep cousins with low intelligence and terrible hygiene. At one point, they drive their own General Lee as a decoy to help the real Dukes. Misunderstanding the instructions they were given, Coy and Vance drive all the way from Georgia to Santa Monica pier. In the final scene of the movie, Coy and Vance hold hands Thelma and Louise style, and just as we watch them jump the car to their doom, we freeze frame on them and the Balladeer sings, “Now these boys are in trouble.” Smash to black.
• Upon asking my manager if I should really hand this in, he said, “Sure, this whole thing is a clusterf--k anyway.”