Revenge overtakes values in slave film

Janelle Monae in Antebellum (CNS/Lionsgate)

The grim fantasy Antebellum is marked by an outlook on timely racial issues that lacks both balance and a humane spirit. Source: CNS.

Written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, the film also is tainted by a pursuit of revenge that viewers committed to Christian values will recognise as appealing to its audience’s worst impulses.

The complexly presented story can be divided into three distinct phases. At first, the movie seems to a historical drama centred on the horrific experiences of Eden (Janelle Monae), an enslaved woman on a Louisiana cotton plantation. Like her two most prominent peers, Eli (Tongayi Chirisa) and new arrival Julia (Kiersey Clemons), Eden yearns for freedom but fears the consequences of trying to run.

Later, Eden’s sufferings appear to have been no more than an extended nightmare in the mind of Veronica Henley (also Monae), a present-day social justice activist. But the plot takes a subsequent turn designed to make Antebellum a gloss on contemporary political divides.

The picture abounds in villainous characters. They range from the plantation’s brutal owner, known only as “Him” (Eric Lange) and its equally sadistic overseer, Confederate officer Captain Jasper (Jack Huston), to the modern minor characters who continually assault Veronica with microaggressions.

On a moral level, Bush and Renz engage in the old game of setting up antagonists so profoundly wicked that the audience can delight when they meet a nasty, violent end. In the present instance, the effect of this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that it unfolds within the context of enslaved people endeavouring to escape bondage. But cheering the death of a sinner is never an ideal form of entertainment.

Review by John Muldering, CNS

Antebellum: Starring Janelle Monae, Tongayi Chirisa, Kiersey Clemons, Eric Lange, Jack Huston. Directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. Rated MA15+ (strong violence and coarse language). CNS advises harsh gory violence, including torture and a brief scene of semi-graphic rape, a vengeance theme, a few profanities, a couple of milder oaths, considerable rough language, a half-dozen crude terms.


Antebellum (By John Mulderig, CNS

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