‘Antebellum’ depicts a slave woman, referred to as Eden (Janelle Monáe), as she considers rebelling against the Louisiana plantation she is a captive of, and where she suffers abuse with other African American slaves there. Flash forward to the life of successful author Veronica Henley (Monáe), whose life will utterly change one fateful night.
‘Antebellum’ opens with a single shot travelling across the region of its plantation setting. What initially seems tranquil and innocent, with children running about the place, ends with a horrific sight. Further brutality follows. From the way the Confederate soldiers who enforce the rule of the plantation speak, we know something else, possibly existentialist, is going on, and yet we are not quite sure of what it is.
The Confederates are resolute and terrifying, their abuse unrelenting. The first act of ‘Antebellum’ is full of darkness and absent of hope. And just when you think you can’t take another moment, Veronica awakens and it’s the present day, so you know there’s something strange is going on.
Veronica has a loving husband and daughter, and is on tour promoting her book. She delivers a powerful speech about black women being stereotyped, and rouses her audience to break from their chains. Gabourey Sidibe is a scene stealer as Veronica’s flirtatious friend Dawn, but while there’s fun with friends, certain exchanges brim with tension, including a conversation with an icy receptionist. More threats for Veronica are just around the corner…
As you’ve probably gathered at this stage, ‘Antebellum’ revolves around a big mystery and plot twist, so don’t be surprised if you recall ‘Get Out’ or something from M. Night Shyamalan upon the reveal. But when it’s explained through one of those “bad guy monologues”, one is disappointed as it could have been divulged in a more interesting and innovative way. Act 3 mirrors the violence of Act 1, and while there’s a stirring and strong social and racial commentary, the execution of the concept could have been better. The third act feels rushed, the finale anti-climactic. It’s such a shame too because Monáe, Jena Malone and the other players are terrific, as is the production design. It’s the writing that could have used more time and attention.
‘Antebellum’ is available on Sky Cinema from Friday, 2 April.