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Antebellum

Peter Malone MSC  |  21 December 2020

ANTEBELLUM. US, 2020. Starring Janelle Monae, Eric Lange, Tongayi Chirisa, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Keirsey Clemons, Marque Richardson, Robert Aramayo, Gaby Sibouore. Directed by Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz. 103 minutes. Rated M (Strong violence and coarse language)

Antebellum rings with that sound of the old American south, the spirit of the South before the Civil War. This film goes in quite some unexpected directions.
For the first half hour, it is a re-creation of life on a plantation, the descendants of the African slaves, still in slavery, picking the cotton, living in rather squalid conditions, sternly supervised as they work in the fields, verbally abused, severely punished if they run away and are re-captured.

One of the main supervisors is Captain Jasper, a cruel man played by Jack Huston. His arrogantly snobbish wife is played by Jenna Malone. There is also the general, played by Eric Lange, who dominates the men, urges them to patriotic spirit, the Confederate spirit, to win the war and preserve the South. There are quite a number of soldiers present, dining with the General, ready to keep law and order.

We see a female slave return to the plantation, tortured and shot. There are quite a number of women slaves, working in the fields, waiting at the tables, but also to be made available to the men after the meal. One slave, Eden, is the possession of general. Another slave, brought from North Carolina to Louisiana, is made available to the young soldiers. Desperate, she hangs herself.
And then, we are suddenly in the 21st-century, an affluent home, an academic, Veronica, about to go to a conference on the status of women. She is an expert and author. She has a devoted husband and child. We are 160 years on from the Civil War. This is a different United States – or is it?

Veronica has a successful conference – but, there are hints of racism from the concierge at the hotel, she and her friends being placed at the table near the entrance to the kitchen… On the whole, Veronica and her friends live a comfortable life.

Veronica is played by Janelle Monae. She has woken up to a nightmare where she is Eden.

It would be too much of a spoiler in a review to say anything more about the remainder of the film except to say that it is surprising, dramatic, melodramatic, and quite disturbing to the audience.

But, for a film released in 2020, it is in the vein of Black Lives Matter. It is a condemnation of those who have preserve the racist attitudes of the past – where white supremacist violence can erupt. There is a critique of theme parks and those popular re-enactments of battles and events in the Civil War, dressing up, uniforms, weapons, seen as preserving and legitimising the racism.

It would be interesting to know more how Antebellum was received in the United States and the effect on audiences. For audiences outside the United States, it is quite a jolting and unsettling experience.

Roadshow
Released 3 December
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of Jesuit Media

 

 

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