‘Antebellum’ – A Past and Present Horror

Release Date

Doomed to repeat

The following is a guest post by J.T. Moore

On August 6, Lionsgate announced that it will release the motion picture Antebellum starring Janelle Monae, written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz as a Premium On-Demand release on September 18.

Antebellum will not be released in theaters in the United States where the full pageantry and color could be viewed on the large screen but will instead be in your homes, on your television and laptop screens. Conversely, the film will be released on the big screen in select international markets where the pandemic is somewhat under control. This pandemic has changed the way we do many things, entertainment being chief among them. No sharing the experience of watching a horror movie with a significant other and a few hundred of your closest strangers.  Social distancing to prevent contact with the virus is impossible in a dark, crowded, windowless room. No hearing the gasps and laughter of a scared audience trying to relieve the pressure of an intense moment. No seeing people hiding in the shoulder of a significant other or complete stranger who looks at you funny but lets you get away with it. 

This pandemic has changed the way movies are released from big spectacles of opening night excitement to the more subdued anticipation of quarantined couples and friends looking forward to something new to again take their minds away from the disaster that is 2020 if only for two hours.   

When this situation will change is anyone’s guess at this moment in time. So we will sit at home in our pajamas with a bowl of microwave popcorn and be taken on a time twisting journey that no Black person ever wants to revisit in real life.    

Antebellum literally means ‘before a war.’ It is a time-bending horror movie starring Janelle Monet as a Black woman who has it all, a successful career, a loving husband and a beautiful child, before she gets stuck in the pre-civil war period where slavery is again the most lucrative commodity. It’s a night terror that doesn’t disappear with the sun.   

This movie dramatizes the very real horror of a past that intrudes on the lives of African Americans every minute of every day from before they’re born until death. The timeliness of this movie touches on the Cultural Revolution that is happening in the United States and the world at this very moment; the dehumanization of slavery with the knowledge that you are more than this world would allow you to be. This horrifying reality that the character finds herself trapped in mirrors in some way the fight that African Americans are going through today. People want to be seen, they want to be equal, and they want to be treated as human. No one is asking for special treatment; they are demanding equal treatment.     

Antebellum may not have been scheduled to arrive on the scene at this pivotal moment in history but it is hitting the mark, coming as we deal with the realities of systemic racism in this country. Maybe it will reach a wider audience. Antebellum will entertain. But I also hope that it will further the conversation between warring and allied factions as we, like the protagonist, grapple with the past and present and decide what type of future we want to create.