Arts & Leisure

“Antebellum” gets lost in the fog


JANELLE MONAE in “Antebellum.”

By Jim Tortolano

Movies with timely themes don’t always carry the message clearly and with impact. Such is the case with “Antebellum,” a modern horror fable that seeks to explore the connections between the slavery era and the present-day life of African Americans.

This is the story of a woman seemingly trapped between two worlds: one as a much abused Black woman in bondage during the Civil War named Eden, and another as a supremely successful African-American woman – Veronica – in the present day.

OK, so we’re in a kind of Twilight Zone here. But which is it? Is this a dream, an allegory or what?

The film starts with Eden – a wonderful performance by Janelle Monae – being beaten by an evil Confederate officer (Eric Lange) who is charge of some kind of cruel reformatory for rebellious slaves.

We follow her and unfortunate associates from one instance of evil abuse after another. And then, abruptly, there is a jarring change of scene. Veronica awakens in a posh uptown New York loft with a loving husband and darling daughter.

The story line proceeds to identify her as a successful author of “empowerment” books, but nevertheless shows her and her Black friends suffering petty insults, such as being seated next to the kitchen in a chi-chi Manhattan eatery.

In a dizzying fashion, the story – screenplay by Gerald Bush and Christopher Rentz, who also directed – skips back and forth from 1863 to 2020 leaving the viewer to ponder which is real and which is a dream.

However, there are a few clues. The plantation is supposed to raise cotton for sale, and yet – in the foreground for one brief scene – we see bales of cotton burning. Additionally, there is a group of rebel soldiers marching about, but they never seem to go anywhere, fight any battles or do much of anything except act like evil “crackers,” as one slave calls a Confederate officer, and – surprisingly – gets away with it.

The cinematography is gorgeous, but the plot line is muddy. The theme emerges, sort of, that the racism that is just below the surface, and that a lot of white people wouldn’t mind returning Black people to their previous condition of servitude.

It’s an interesting effort, but this is an intriguing tale that gets lost in the telling.

“Antebellum” is rated R for violence, profanity and sexual situations.



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