The Second Civil War

The Second Civil War
Genre Black comedy, political satire
Written by Martyn Burke
Directed by Joe Dante
Theme music composer Hummie Mann
Country of origin USA
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 1
Producer(s) Chip Diggins
Barry Levinson
Guy Riedel
Cinematography Mac Ahlberg
Editor(s) Marshall Harvey
Running time 98 minutes
Distributor HBO Studios
Original network HBO
Original release
  • March 15, 1997 (1997-03-15)

The Second Civil War is a satirical comedy film made for the HBO cable television network and first shown on March 15, 1997.

Directed by Joe Dante, the film is a satire about anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States.[1]

The film also stars James Earl Jones, Elizabeth Peña and Denis Leary as reporters for a CNN like cable network, ("NN"); Phil Hartman as the U.S. President, James Coburn as his chief political advisor, and William Schallert as the Secretary of Defense. Brian Keith portrayed a general in one of his final movie roles.[2]


The film was shown in theaters in Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands and France in 1997 and 1998, before being released to home video. In Australia, the film was released directly to video in April/May 1998. The DVD was released in 2005.

Beau Bridges won the 1997 Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Special for his portrayal of a Governor of Idaho who decides to close that state's borders to immigrants, precipitating a national crisis.[3]



The 1997 film is set in a United States in which foreign immigration has skyrocketed: The mayor of Los Angeles speaks only in Spanish, Rhode Island is populated mostly by Chinese-Americans, and Alabama has a congressman from India. Politics is openly reduced to a matter of catering to various ethnic groups for their votes - the Alabama congressman will only support the president if his state receives more money for Hindu temples. When an atomic weapon is used in Pakistan, an international organization makes plans to bring orphans to Idaho.

Idaho governor Jim Farley (Bridges) orders the state's National Guard to close its borders, as Idaho has already received more than a million refugees; he acknowledges this even though the Governor himself routinely indulges in Mexican food, Mexican soap operas, and an affair with a Mexican-American reporter (Peña). Despite the best efforts of his press secretary Jimmy Cannon (Kevin Dunn), Farley remains largely oblivious to the national crisis he's the center of, since Farley is more concerned with rekindling his romance with his mistress rather than dealing with national matters.

Meanwhile, the President of the United States (Hartman) turns out to be an equally ineffectual leader, ruthlessly exploiting immigration to fill districts and states with those most likely to vote for his own party. He will move more Koreans to New York since Koreans are one of his core constituencies. Reputed as indecisive, the President delegates his decision-making entirely to his advisors, most notably his unofficial chief advisor, lobbyist Jack B. Buchan (Coburn).

Buchan, however, is less concerned with the good of the nation, and more concerned with politics, especially how the President's actions will play on television (resulting, for example, in a 72-hour deadline being shortened to 6712 hours to prevent the news from interrupting Susan Lucci's farewell appearance on the soap opera All My Children). Buchan regularly influences the President's decisions by manipulating his desire to emulate previous U.S. presidents, even going so far as to pepper presidential statements with fictitious "quotes" from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Meanwhile, the NN cable network is reporting the events and influencing them at the same time. News director Mel (Dan Hedaya) attempts to time events to maximize ratings, while his staff becomes polarized over the political issues involved in the conflict between the Governor and the President. Standard fare for the cable network is to show footage of crying immigrant children, which is done with the Pakistani orphans waiting to move to Idaho.

As the deadline approaches, the Governor and the President call in, respectively, the Idaho National Guard and the United States Army. Tensions rise when the commanders of both units turn out to be bitter rivals from the Gulf War. Meanwhile, governors from other states send in their own National Guard units to aid one side or the other, causing the conflict to escalate into the national arena. Mexican-American pro-immigrant rioters bomb the Alamo, while anti-immigrants retaliate by bombing the Statue of Liberty because of its plaque, stating that "We no longer want your tired, your poor or your huddled masses."

Eventually, the Governor's girlfriend convinces him to back down from the conflict and resign, but a series of misunderstandings and mutinies leads to a major battle between anti- and pro-immigrant armed forces at the Idaho border, culminating with the president's decision to invade Idaho in what becomes the Second American Civil War. At the movie's close, news reports indicate that hostilities have ceased, but the immigration issue is unresolved.


  1. James Ciment, Encyclopedia of American Immigration (M E Sharpe Reference, 2001), p. 789
  2. The Second Civil War (1997) (TV) - Full cast and crew
  3. "49th Primetime Emmys Nominees and Winners". Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
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