Review: A provocative idea that doesn’t work in ‘Antebellum’ | Entertainment

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The new film “ Antebellum ” begins with a famous William Faulkner quote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

This is a very literal introduction to a film about the evils of de facto and de jure oppression of Black people in America that’s crafted as a high-concept nightmare. Essentially, a modern-day woman finds herself trapped and enslaved on a plantation and must find a way to escape and reclaim her identity. Perhaps the overused quote was a warning about the journey we were about to go on. Because while the concept is certainly intriguing, the execution falls woefully short of its potential. In other words, this is no “Get Out,” although it would like to be.

Written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz (in their feature debut) the film begins on the plantation. The camera floats over familiar images of Southern hypocrisy as a little white girl in a sunny yellow dress skips over to her mother on the steps of their grand estate while enslaved Black people work around them and Confederate soldiers march through the grounds. Janelle Monae is introduced as one of these enslaved people, Eden. And it’s not long before the brutality starts — branding, lynching, assault (verbal, sexual and physical).

We’re in this “past” for over 30 minutes before the film essentially stops and reboots itself in a modern setting where Monae is now Veronica Henley, a famous and wealthy writer and public intellectual who is going on a work trip. She has a picture-perfect life: A loving husband and a beautiful daughter, a magazine-worthy apartment, professional success and confidence. She’s the kind of notable author who gets asked to speak on television and at conferences about racism and empowerment. In an alternate reality, this could be the beginning of a rom-com.

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