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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Review: Antebellum

Director: Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz

Screenplay: Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz

Year: 2020

Antebellum, meaning preexisting before the war, is a very relevant title for this movie. In this case, the term refers to the cotton-picking plantations where the black slaves were forced to work before the American Civil War. However, the unequal treatment towards black people, as happened during those times, continues to be a social issue that permeates through modern societies. 

Eden is a slave trapped in a cotton plantation ruled by the confederates, where the black people are forced to work picking cotton in inhuman conditions. Veronica Henley is a successful writer that fights for black females’ equality and empowerment in modern times. The lives of both women are intertwined in a mind-bending reality that they must solve to survive. 

Following the steps of the successful director Jordan Peele, with whom they worked within “Get Out”, Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz chose to submerge into the horrors of racism, particularly in the United States, for their debut full-length feature. Although its release was affected by the closing of cinemas because of the COVID-19 pandemic, “Antebellum” gets released in a time where its topic is much more pertinent. Its release takes place in the midst of the claims for equality from the black community in the United States after a series of violent acts against some of them, with the murder of George Floyd as the catalyst that unleashed a strong wave of protest in different states and one of their objectives is to eliminate the homages to confederates.

“Antebellum” can be broken into three parts. The first part has Eden (Janelle Monáe; “Moonlight”) as a focus, who is a black slave in a confederate plantation. The second part has Veronica as a focus, also portrayed by Monáe, a successful writer who fights against the inequality black women face. The third part mixed the stories of both women in a complex and unpredictable way. Each part is so different from the rest that it seems like they belong to different movies, but Bush and Renz tie both stories and leave the viewer open-mouthed.

How difficult the story is to predict is what keeps the intrigue of the movie. The first part develops as a period movie exposing the degree of abuse and violence from the confederates and the black slaves’ impotence to defend themselves. After more than half an hour of this dynamic, the movie takes a sudden twist that transports us to the modern-day, which shifts the tone and even the style in which the film is presented and adopts a way slower rhythm. In both parts, Monáe’s acting stands out, who does a great job in her interpretation of the scared and rage-filled Eden, as well as of empowered Veronica.


A note of caution before watching the movie is that the trailer is as misleading as it gets. “Antebellum” is not a horror or sci-fi movie as it suggests, bit more of a thriller about racism and the United States history. However, the suspense level that it builds during its first and third parts is excellent and well crafted to highlight the artistic side without being pretentious. 

“Antebellum” is destined to be a polarizing movie, especially in a time where the racial theme is present in the United States society. The mind-bending plot, the acting, and the artistic side expose the racial issues that still exist in developed countries such as the United States, without forgetting about one of the most important historical moments in this topic, the Civil War, in an intriguing story. Definitively is not a movie for all audiences, particularly those who do not enjoy racial themes being shown in a crude way, and the great diversity of opinions can already be seen. In the most objective way possible, I can say that, although it has a few flaws, “Antebellum” is an impressive debut for directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz.

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