Movie Review: Janelle Monáe Captivates Thriller, Antebellum


Chey Ann Boyd '21, Staff Writer

Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers!

Most may know Janelle Monáe for her iconic style and beautiful voice as a professional singer, but she shows that her powerful voice can extend past radios with her stunning debut in the psychological thriller, Antebellum. Her movie debut was originally set to release on April 24, but it got delayed by the coronavirus. However, on September 18, Antebellum premiered on all on-demand platforms.

In the making of Antebellum, activist-directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz also confront the haunting enigma of present-day slavery through characters: Veronica/Eden (Janelle Monáe), Elizabeth (Jena Malone), Julia (Kiersey Clemons) and Senator Blake Denton (Eric Lange).

Based on the title of the film one could imagine how it would begin: on a plantation. In the beginning, Antebellum paints the perfect image of life on a Southern plantation. Mirroring scenes from Gone With the Wind, a little white girl in a yellow dress skips across the field of her Louisiana estate. Unlike that controversial Hollywood classic though, Antebellum proactively challenges the traditional South through its racial lense of the past. 

The first couple minutes of the movie are the most chilling. It starts with the scene of a Confederate officer threatening a slave couple with a loaded gun after their failed escape from the ‘reformer plantation’. The confrontation escalates to a brutal execution which leaves Eden to tear up as she realizes her role in the slave’s death. Eden is the protagonist of the film. She was instrumental in planning the escape, but her life was spared by her abusive owner. Even though he punished her for the attempted escape that didn’t stop her from trying to leave again. She figured out a system to avoid the creaking floor boards, in order to safely meet with fellow slaves— Eli (Tongayi Chirisa) and new arrival Julia. 

Just as Eden is getting closer to her escape, a cell-phone rings off-screen snapping to a different storyline. It shows Monáe waking up with a gasp, as though she had just been through a nightmare. Now set in the 21st century, we learn her name is Veronica, and that she is a successful author with a husband and young daughter. Veronica drew attention to herself when she upstaged a conservative pundit during a TV news interview expressing her views of black excellence and how she planned to achieve it. After she was contacted by an offensive Southern woman, viewers instantly knew what was really going on. Monáe’s character was punished with a life of bondage because of her challenge to white authority. Monaé has truly taken Hollywood by storm with her phenomenal performance in Antebellum. While starring in the film, Monaé has truly helped bring awareness to racial injustice through her acknowledgement of the past atrocities of American history.

Image courtesy of Flickr.