ANTEBELLUM is nothing like we’ve seen before. It’s unlike historical dramas, like 12 Years a Slave and Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, which depict the Black experience (read: the horrific and brutal treatment), set in a very specific time in American history. ANTEBELLUM isn’t actually set in the past, despite what the word means and leads you to believe.
Presently, America is in the midst of turmoil and trauma. There’s a global health pandemic that continues to ravage our nation and racial tensions are boiling over, once again. The police shootings of unarmed Black men and women have pushed people beyond their breaking point. People are speaking out and protesting against police brutality and discrimination (across all sectors), and are fighting for equality. While all of this is going on, there are people who are fighting back, in opposition to change.
ANTEBELLUM reflected what I see in America. To me, it’s as much the story of people who are fighting to keep systems of racism and oppression alive, as it is a story of the Black experience. It opened with the quote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” What we bear witness to isn’t history repeating itself, because the systemic oppression and discrimination never really ended ⎯ it was simply repackaged.
Janelle Monáe gives a wonderful performance as Veronica, the lead character, as well as bringing out the experiences of dual characters. ANTEBELLUM uses a few scenes to show that established and professional Black women weren’t exempt from experiencing discrimination. Instead of matching energies, Veronica took the high road in both situations. Some may think that it shows emotional maturity, which it does. However, as a Black woman, I recognize that we are often forced to take the high road lest be considered “angry” or “aggressive.”
Robert Aramyao’s character, Daniel, represented those people who witness injustices, but don’t speak out ⎯ either out of fear that they’ll be ostracized from their community, harmed, or simply because they’ve convinced themselves that it’s not their problem. I believe that Daniel was one of the former two; his body language, posture, and nonverbal behaviors suggested guilt ⎯ something seldom seen with people who are disconnected.
If this film is a representation of America’s history, there was a very specific reason why Veronica and the Professor were abducted. We didn’t know much about the Professor, but his name suggests he was in the position to educate. We know that Veronica is a successful author who can reach a wide group of people. It seemed that prominent Black figures with the power to educate and lead groups of people were a threat, and in order to keep the systems-that-be in place, they had to get rid of them. It’s not like this hasn’t actually happened before.
In summary, Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz were successful in creating a film that sparks a much-needed discussion about race relations in present-day America. Some people are under the impression that race relationships have drastically improved, and also that racism is a thing of the past. ANTEBELLUM illustrates the nightmare many Black people face, regardless of their gender or socioeconomic status, to show that none of us is exempt. Race can be an uncomfortable conversation; however, failing to discuss issues of race doesn’t change that nor does it make them (the issues) go away. In order to really make a change, we need to start having real discussions.
ANTEBELLUM is now available to won on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD and includes special features such as a 2-Part Documentary deconstructing Antebellum, deleted scenes, theatrical trailers and more.