Janelle Monae and Gabourey Sidibe Save Hard to Digest Antebellum
Slavery. It’s a horrific period in America history that should never be forgotten as history is bound to repeat itself if not corrected…right?
As we enter the world of Antebellum, we see a plantation mansion with happy white people. Field and house slaves prepping for a party, hanging laundry as those same slaves are being separated, raped, hung and dragged begging to be killed. One of them gets her wish. And that is just the first 20 minutes of Antebellum. This flick follows a respected 21st-century academic named Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe), author of “Shedding the Coping Persona,” as she finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality of slavery and must carefully plan her escape before this reality reaches the point of no return.
There is so much to unpack here, I don’t even know where to begin, so I will start with the fantabulous performances of Janelle Monáe, Gabourey Sidibe, Marque Richardson, Eric Lange, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, Tongayi Chirisa, Gabourey Sidibe, Rob Aramayo, Lily Cowles, and Jena Malone. All are extremely gifted actors who inhabit, commit and immerse themselves into their characters who appear a little too realistically at times. Kudos to Laray Mayfield for a spectacular job casting what I’m sure wasn’t easy to combine and connect just the right chemistry in order to tackle such controversial and touchy material.
From Octavia Butler’s time-travelling novel ‘Kindred’ to the haunting string soundtrack, Antebellum is like watching Twilight Zone meet Gone With The Wind married to Get Out. I know you’re reading this and asking how is this even possible! Black Lives Matter, The Civil Rights Movement, Times Up and Women’s Suffrage marches are all movements rooted in pain, suppression and the incessant need to keep the past alive, which is the film’s central theme.
Directed and Written by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, these filmmakers take the attitude of white entitlement to a whole new level bathed in the sorrow, disrespect, superiority complex and the patriarchy that we (as black Americans) have literally become invisible as human beings and viable contributors to society. It begs society to contemplate all the ways people of color are consistently insulted in the guise of compliments from being told how articulate we are to being the angry black woman based on tone to the constant shedding to assimilate into a society that has never accepted us and possibly never will. Liberation over assimilation is what has the spirits of our ancestors stuck in the past. We, this generation, are the future. Our time is right now.
Janelle Monáe, Gabourey Sidibe and Kiersey Clemmons are some of the best and brightest Hollywood female on the scene. Each one brings their own brand of special to this project with performances that are layered, rooted and impressive on all cylinders. They all deserved better. Janelle Monáe deserves a special award simply for the bravery and strength she exudes as Veronica. Her performance is truly on another level. Which brings me to what I had issues with.
As I have previously pointed out, I wholeheartedly understand what Bush and Renz were going for, but watching yet another Black body get branded, raped, hung, called a savage, asked to cook, entertain (sing a ‘negro tune’), be given cotton bouquets and then asked to be kind made my blood run cold triggering every moment in my life I have been called the “N-word, ” passed over for a job for someone with half my experience or being followed by store security as it was assumed I would be a theft risk simply based on the color of my skin. Additionally, there are more and better stories to tell about my people and I wish Hollywood would get over this fascination of slave narrative driven cinema. Enough already.
At the end of the day, Antebellum is a blatant reminder that the past is not dead – it’s not even the past. It’s the uncomfortable, unwarranted and unwelcome reality of living the unending nightmare of a racial pandemic. Will we see a resolve in our lifetime? Who knows. But, form your own conclusions about this Lionsgate title as it is currently streaming now on Google Play and Amazon Prime.