“Antebellum,” directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, is a psychological thriller produced by QC Entertainment (“Us” and “Get Out”). The film starred Janelle Monáe as Veronica, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist and author who must overcome the past and present before it’s too late.
“Antebellum” had a limited release in theaters Aug. 21 and became available on-demand Sept. 18. But after watching Veronica time travel in this much-anticipated film, viewers will wish they could, too — to redeem an hour and forty-five minutes of their time.
As the title depicts, “Antebellum” takes place on a plantation in the South before the Civil War when dozens of Black slaves are plotting their escape. The film later switches to modern day where Veronica is embracing her ideal life of fame, fortune and family. In order to stay in her state of bliss and contentment, she chooses to overlook the prejudice she constantly experiences throughout the film.
When waking up in pre-Civil War America, Veronica must conform to those societal norms and submit to her oppressors in order to preserve her life. Veronica’s plight through time captures the film’s powerful message — the everyday moments of microaggressions experienced by people of color are a reminder that America hasn’t advanced from its not-so-distant past, and persistence in proaction is the only way to destroy racism.
If this film could solely be rated on actors’ performances, it would have had stellar reviews. Monáe and Gabourey Sidibe, who plays her on-screen best friend, give authentic expressions of women of color. Monáe accurately portrays Black women who carefully pick their battles when confronted by racism. Sibide’s character, on the other hand, consistently addresses her issues verbally and with confidence. Their seemingly opposite personalities, interpreted as both authentic and relatable, are a reminder that all people of color are different in how they speak, walk, dress, live and deal with racial injustice.
The praiseworthy acting and thought-provoking synopsis is undermined by the film’s failure to connect all of the dots. Possibly to the viewers’ annoyance, this film ends with many unanswered questions. Unlike the production team’s predecessor “Get Out,” analyzing and hindsight fail to give the viewer clarity about many of the ominous occurrences.
The comparisons between “Antebellum” and “Get Out” don’t end here. “Get Out,” directed by Jordan Peele, is a horror movie about a young Black man who meets his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time only to find out he’s going to be auctioned off. Antebellum’s vibe seems to be a possible prequel to “Get Out.” As the head slave master said at one point in the movie, there could be other hidden places in society where Black people are still under some level of captivity. His comment makes it plausible that societies involving slave auctions similar to “Get Out” still exist.
But ultimately the two differ in that “Antebellum” felt rushed and limited in the relationships between characters while “Get Out” had a complete plot. Veronica’s family and friends weren’t given any resolution, and it would’ve helped. By adding just another scene or two, viewers would have received some closure that would have given the film more depth.
This film also lacked novelty. There wasn’t much to separate it from being just another movie reminding viewers of slavery. While “Antebellum’s” plot twist attempted to make the film stand out, its trailers nearly gave it away. If the creators wanted to focus an entire movie around the trite and heavy depiction of race, injustice and inequality, they could’ve softened the blow with more entertainment.
Unfortunately, the production team missed their opportunity to capitalize on the attention of the political and racial climate by releasing this film with unrealized potential. The whole planet is inundated in emotion and tension after the seemingly overnight mass awareness of racial injustice. The time for a film like this is now, as people’s emotions and ears are attuned to the theme of race, giving “Antebellum” the gift of relevance. But the aforementioned critiques ultimately make this film flop.
The message of this film stands firm and the acting is high quality. While the poor attributes of “Antebellum” don’t entirely negate the good, mixing the two together will ultimately leave most viewers disappointed. QC Entertainment seems to be struggling to outdo their previous work. Instead of releasing films tediously with a focus on quantity, more time should be spent on the drawing board and working on the aspects of creativity and depth. Then and only then, will a fulfilling film be produced. “Antebellum,” however, wasn’t it.