Our past is never too far off and if not fully settled, it can come back in a myriad of unsettling ways. In Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz’s new film, Antebellum, viewers come face-to-face with America’s horrific racial history and learn that for many, that past is bubbling just below the surface.
In the film, Janelle Monae plays Veronica, a well-traveled, well-educated, accomplished wife, and mother, who is deeply invested in the betterment of the Black community. Her world suddenly crashes on itself when she is cherry-picked from her modern-day environment and has to fight unforeseen circumstances to return to her life and family.
“What we wanted to do was kind of put a modern context for people around the horrors of slavery and allow people to view it through a modern lens so it’s easier to sympathize and understand what happened,” says Renz. “In the American school system, Black history begins at slavery, there’s nothing before. And so this film kind of allows you to understand what that would be like, to be plucked from your family, your job, your entire world environment and put into this horror. And how horrific that was and how long-lasting the effects.”
With help from the producers of Get Out and Us, the psychological thriller doesn’t revel in the horrors of slavery but instead aims to use art, particularly film, as a vehicle to examine it. Storytelling has always been a powerful means of speaking truth to power and Antebellum hopes to inspire discourse, no matter how difficult it may be.
“The themes that this film deals with are white supremacy, macroaggressions, systemic racism, and the burden that Black women carry to deconstruct white supremacy and racism every day,” says Monae. “I think that it’s even more important that we talk about these things because of the times that we are in. We are in a fight right now, we’re in a real fight, and the things in this film haven’t been as global as they need to be. We’re seeing people wake up for the first time and address the delusion of white supremacy. And what this film shows and what we see right now is that the past is not the past.”
Antebellum is not only encouraging discussion but also one’s civic duty. Teaming up with When We All Vote, the nonpartisan organization founded by Monae, along with former First Lady Michelle Obama, Antebellum hopes to help change the misconception and culture around voting. There’s a lot of misinformation about the entire process, particularly that one’s vote doesn’t matter. When We All Vote hopes that with the proper education and dialogue, many who have grown disillusioned with voting will have a change of heart and register.
For those eager to learn from the past and not repeat the mistakes of yesteryear, Antebellum and When We All Vote are both artistic and educational tools to equip those eager to make different choices.
Antebellum will be available for purchase via video on demand, September 18.