Written by Imari Washington
In “Antebellum,” Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz created a story around slavery not just about Black people, but for Black people. The directors created a film that the Black community has claimed we have needed for so long, but in a way we could have never imagined.
“Antebellum” captures perfectly the pain of Black history, particularly the trauma that Black women have suffered through, while also tackling contemporary issues that Black women still face. This movie is a story of tragedy, resilience, and eventually triumph.
In “Antebellum,” we follow the life of a successful author and activist speaker Veronica Hanley (Janelle Monae) as she speaks out on issues of injustice towards Black people on a very lucrative business trip. As we follow her through the motions of simple, everyday things we are privy to the “subtle” microaggressions that she faces as she arrives at the hotel, goes to her event, and goes to dinner with her friends.
As Veronica navigates her fast-paced life, there are small moments where we notice that strange individuals make contact with her in a way that may seem brief or insignificant, but increasingly more sinister as the movie progresses. As the audience becomes more acquainted with Veronica’s prosperous life, we are also thrown into a horrifying alternate reality in which Veronica is positioned in a torturous and dangerous plantation in the South as a slave, and must find her way out.
Bush and Renz do an incredible job of making the audience confront modern, insidious racism and the violent, blatant racism of the past– while tying them together through the storyline of this resilient and calculated character. Through the creators’ use of alternate reality, they are creating a parallel between modern and long-established oppression in America. The realization of Veronica’s situation emphasizes a crucial point in the film; that the slavery and racism of the past are still embedded in the contemporary oppression of Black people.
Specifically, this movie centers the experience of Black women in the past and present, finally acknowledging a perspective that is often overlooked. On the plantation, Veronica is forced to witness and endure treatment that was specific to Black women because of their gender and their race. Bush and Renz reinforce this by subjecting us to witness Veronica being mistreated in the modern world, once again subjugated by misogyny and racism.
Despite this Veronica is still a character who remains triumphant through her successful career, her loving family and beautiful home, and her resilience throughout the film.
“Antebellum” is different in that it aims to center the experience of Black women explicitly and capture the nuances of the experience.
Although some may think that slave movies are overdone or include too much obscene content for little reward, this movie serves the purpose of reminding viewers of this gruesome part of our history and allowing Black creatives the ability to re-imagine our own endings. Furthermore, Veronica’s character symbolized the ability for Black people to be triumphant because our history didn’t end or begin with slavery.