On the surface, Antebellum looks like a timely film that has a lot to say with its themes on race throughout time, afterall, the film literally opens with a quote from William Faulkner saying, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” Yet rather than confront and explore any issues our society is currently facing regarding racism, the film only blows out hot air and delivers a barebones story that feels more exploitative than actually addressing any of the themes it puts on display.
Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe) is a world renowned sociologist who is currently on tour promoting her latest book. Despite her success, there are still plenty of people who don’t agree with her ideas. After one night out celebrating with her friends at dinner, Veronica is kidnapped by an organization led by a mysterious woman (Jena Malone) and when she wakes up, she finds herself stuck on a Louisiana plantation, imprisoned as a slave during the American Civil War. Not only does she have to find a way to escape her captors, but she must also find a way back to her own time period.
The major problem with Antebellum is its structure. The film opens with a nearly 40 minute segment showing life on the Louisiana plantation while the Civil War rages on all around them. Veronica is already there, now renamed Eden by her captors, and is just trying to survive one day at a time. We don’t actually see Veronica in the present day until well into the film where we finally see who she is and what happens to her. The two periods are never shown in juxtaposition to each other so there’s no way of exploring their tied themes. What’s worse is that the plantation stuff is shown first so you’re going into the film without any context. Eden is just another slave at the beginning. The first 40 minutes is just another film about white people abusing Black people. It isn’t until things switch that you realize who Eden really is or get a vague idea of what’s going on, and unfortunately it doesn’t make anything that came before it any better. The big twist in the film just plays out for shock value and doesn’t contribute anything to the dialogue the film so desperately needs.
Antebellum is being promoted as from the Producer of Get Out and Us, and while that may be true, the three films have nothing in common. Antebellum pales in comparison to the other two, and you’re better off just watching them. There’s no heart to this film. It’s an empty vessel that wastes the talent it has on a story that falls completely flat. Avoid Antebellum at all costs.