- Warning: Major spoilers ahead for “Antebellum.”
- The new horror film, starring Janelle Monáe, premieres Friday and is already making waves ahead of its release.
- “Antebellum” follows Monáe’s character Veronica as she’s kidnapped on a business trip and brought against her will to a Civil War reenactment park.
- She’s forced into slavery along with other Black people.
- The realisation that Monáe’s experience is real – and not a dream or vision – is one of the movie’s biggest twists.
- But critics have taken issue with the film’s use and portrayal of slavery, arguing that it exploits the trauma of Black people.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The opening scenes of “Antebellum,” a new horror movie starring Janelle MonÃ¡e, are brutal.
Eden (MonÃ¡e), an enslaved woman on what is ostensibly a southern plantation, is brought back on horseback after attempting to escape.
While another woman is shot and killed, Eden is branded on her lower back by one of the plantation’s overseers. For the first forty minutes of the movie, the audience watches as Eden and the other enslaved people are sexually assaulted, beaten, and killed.
It’s a terrifying look back at the violent history of slavery â€” or at least, that’s what it appears to be when Veronica (MonÃ¡e) wakes up next to her husband in the present day.
But after she’s kidnapped on a work trip, it soon becomes clear that the first part of the movie wasn’t a dream or a vision of Veronica’s ancestors.
This twist is one of the movie’s biggest moments, and it appears the movie wants to position Veronica’s struggles to survive and reunite with her family as empowering. Some critics, however, have taken issue with the movie’s plot.
Here’s a spoiler-filled breakdown of what exactly happens in “Antebellum” â€” and why some people aren’t happy with the film.
The biggest twist in ‘Antebellum’ comes towards the end of the movie
The first two parts of the movie seem like separate narratives. In the first one, Eden is shown struggling to survive as an enslaved woman on the plantation.
Most of the enslaved people who try to escape are shot and killed, their bodies dumped in a makeshift crematorium near the edge of the property.
And each night, Eden is sexually assaulted by a white man, seemingly a Confederate general, who then sleeps in her bed with her. She and the others all face instances of violence, like sexual assault and beatings, on the plantation daily.
When a new enslaved woman dies by suicide after being assaulted and losing her pregnancy, Eden decides to act and makes a covert plan (with a fellow enslaved man referred to only as “professor”) to escape.
It’s then that the movie makes a drastic jump to modern-day, reintroducing Eden as Veronica, a wealthy, successful public speaker and author with a doting husband and adorable daughter.
The first half of the movie is kept purposefully vague â€” was it a dream? A vision of Veronica’s ancestors? It’s not immediately clear, and even though figures from the plantation (a creepy little girl and a sadistic southern belle) show up unexpectedly in Veronica’s life, we’re still not sure where Eden and the plantation fit in.
In fact, it’s only when Veronica is kidnapped on a work trip that the truth is revealed: The first part of the movie isn’t a dream or a flashback, but rather, Veronica’s new reality after she’s brought against her will to a Civil War-reenactment theme park called Antebellum.
Upon arrival in the park, she’s renamed Eden, and soon becomes the target of racist violence inflicted by white people who resent her intelligence and achievements.
From there, the film picks up where the first part left off, and Veronica is eventually able to call her husband on a stolen cell phone and escape from the park, leaving most of the overseers dead.
Some critics have called out ‘Antebellum’ for exploiting Black trauma
“Antebellum” is an extremely difficult watch, and there’s certainly a lot to unpack in the film.
Writing for Vulture, critic Angelica Jade BastiÃ©n said that she is “tired of films like ‘Antebellum.'” BastiÃ©n criticised the movie’s twist, which she called “banal,” and expressed her frustration with the film overall.
“‘Antebellum’ ends up being a noxious tour of historic violence against Black folks in service of a story that has nothing novel to say about the obliterating function of whiteness and anti-Black racism,” she wrote. “Lacking a strong point of view to grant interiority to its characters, its approach to horror and social commentary becomes deadened.”
BastiÃ©n’s main point of contention with the film was that it uses Black trauma for shock value and as a means to an end â€” and not much else.
“‘Antebellum’ is ultimately a travesty of craft and filmmaking with a perspective that hollows out the Black experience in favour of wan horror,” she concluded.
And Ciara Wardlow, in her review for Pajiba, shared similar criticisms of the film.
“I still have no idea who this film is supposed to be for, or why anyone could possibly think it was a good idea. It is a grossly miscalculated waste of talent, resources, and time,” Wardlow wrote.
She took issue with the fact that the film is unflinching in its portrayal of violence against Black women, but doesn’t offer any insight or meaning into the trauma the characters face.
“The prestige slave film is a bad habit that needs to be broken. Remembering the past is important, and entertainment plays an important role in shaping public memory,” she wrote, calling the film, “painful.”
‘Antebellum’ premieres Friday on video on demand
You can watch the trailer below.