ANTEBELLUM…and beyond

Spoiler warning for anyone who hasn’t yet seen Antebellum and plans to.

An enslaved Black woman in the Antebellum South hears a cell phone ringing.

A Black man visits his white girlfriend’s family and discovers brain transplants taking place in the house’s basement.

While the mechanisms of storytelling in both Liongate’s 2020 Antebellum and Jordan Peele’s 2017 Get Out were unusual and intriguing, I couldn’t stop wondering, like a tongue probing a sore tooth, why we were taking a ride down this particular road yet again, something I addressed a while ago in a blog called Three Michaels.

In the 1990s movie Sankofa, a beautiful model flounces around during a photo shoot in Ghana amongst the remains of Cape Coast Castle, one of many large commercial forts built on the coast of West Africa by European traders. Originally a center for trade in gold and timber, it later became a bustling hub for the transatlantic slave trade.

In Sankofa, much like the protagonist of Antebellum, the model is mysteriously transported back in time and made to endure plantation life as a slave.

Except that Antebellum Dr. Veronica Henley, married, with one child, hasn’t really gone back in time.  She’s actually a renowned sociologist on a book tour in Louisiana who is drugged, kidnapped, and transported to a Civil War reenactment park where she and other hijacked African Americans are forced into a nightmare of psychotic slave fantasies with an ever-changing cast of cruel, debauched, and murderous white people (including one creepy child).

As says: (Antebellum) mainly focuses on the concept of what would happen if a Black person living in the 21st century woke up one day to find themselves in Southern states during the 19th century.

Okay, but is that a serious question? I mean, what do we think would really happen if Black people living in the 21st century woke up one day to 19th-century plantation life?

To even imagine that modern Americans would resign themselves to such an outrageously insane situation is beyond belief. Yet Antebellum suggests that at least some of the victims were not only resigned but completely hopeless—so much so that a pregnant Black woman actually hangs herself.

Uh…no. Not buying it. Apart from how ferociously a mother-to-be will protect an unborn child. But especially with the promise of escape so close.

Because even though the victims were punished harshly and/or murdered for “trying” to flee, escape appeared to be fairly actionable, considering there weren’t a crapload of “guards” everywhere, everybody seemed to get rip-roaring drunk, sloppy, and lazy at night after a good meal and some traditional raping, and there were NO BARRIERS around the encampment.

No electrified fences, no 20-foot walls. No moats. Super important to keep it period-accurate, I guess.

The idea that any of the kidnapped people would remain there for any length of time–getting raped every night, picking cotton all day long or getting straight up murdered and/or their bodies burned in a crematorium–beyond the few hours it would take for them to wrap their heads around what was going on, rush the guards, and storm out of there seemed like subtle hat-tipping to the myth of Africans rarely putting up a fight.

Which, of course, is patently untrue, as seen in the myriad revolts and rebellions that constantly bloomed among their ranks.

Sankofa is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana. The literal translation of the word and the symbol is “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”

I love the idea of that, because it’s true and real and pure.

Yes, the model in Sankofa probably shouldn’t have been prancing around at Cape Coast Castle as if it were a casino in Las Vegas. No one would go to Treblinka and take white-toothed selfies with the physical ruins symbolic of such untold suffering looming right behind them.

But there’s a fine line between education and awareness and shouldering a burden that never eases or having past circumstances forever dictating one’s identity.

In the news recently, a white and black couple were arguing in a coffee shop over something, and then the white man yelled, “My ancestors owned your ancestors!”

My question is, would he have thought of that insult if it wasn’t an immediate go-to, if it wasn’t the first association that came to mind: Black people=slavery? And is it a go-to because we’re all drowning in a tsunami of history-telling that focuses 90% on Black people’s “victim hood” and 5% on everything else?

With that in mind, one could also take the point of view that the model’s light-heartedness at the start of Sankofa was a manifestation of what any parent wants for their child: a better life. We don’t necessarily need her to “learn a lesson” by going back in time. A little sensitivity training wouldn’t hurt, but she is where her ancestors wanted her to be.

And we certainly don’t need the paint-by-numbers “slave/master” narrative and adolescent fantasies of Antebellum pointlessly grinding salt in the wound. Are we supposed to be happy that, no matter how monstrous they were, she actually burned three men alive? Were the filmmakers striving for Tarantino-like historical revenge porn like Django and Inglourious Basterds?

In the end, I still agree that while it’s “not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind,” I also think, at least in the entertainment realm, that it’s also true that it’s not taboo to loosen our grip on that which is at risk of hindering potential, constricting creativity, and dampening true joy.

30 thoughts on “ANTEBELLUM…and beyond

  1. For someone who had a wisdom tooth extraction just a few days back, the ‘I couldn’t stop wondering, like a tongue probing a sore tooth’ simile struck me as particularly on point. I will add I reckon GET OUT (2017) was one of the best movies to come out of the 2010’s.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oof. Sorry about that, Glen, lol. Hopefully it wasn’t impacted. I had both of mine out years ago at the same time,they weren’t impacted, and he did it so fast I wasn’t even aware he was done till he showed them to me. Hope you had the same experience! As for Get Out–loved the approach, loved the tone, loved the ominous mom saying, “Sink.”
      A different approach, at least, blowing new life into a somewhat hackneyed theme.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi there! We started watching it here, and I liked it. I’m a big Jason Bateman fan. Then…something happened (in our life) and I don’t even remember what it was, but we never got back to it !! Obviously, we need to….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent, thought provoking post, Stacey. I really think that there are some January 6th rioters who would like to participate in an experiment like Antebellum…as long as they outnumbered their captives at least 2,ooo to 1…as long as they had disorientated, abused, sick from a grueling journey, non English speaking captives kidnapped from their homes…as long as there were laws that deemed their captives as chattel. Otherwise they would be too cowardly to participate even if they had the opportunity. Bastards.
    That’s why I don’t watch The Handmaid’s Tale. It just pisses me off and some of it–okay, a lot of it–is so ridiculous…but the attitudes, the base composition and warping of morals and ethics, the bastardizing of Christianity is spot on…I would like these films more if they were more overtly, theatrically, absurd so that the point is even more grotesque. But that’s just me.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Yikes,yeah, what a horrifying thought, Pam! You’re probably right.
    I also know what you mean about the Handmaid’s Tale–the transparent hypocrisies and lip-service-only to anything approaching “Christianity” is enraging because I can just SEE the members of the GOP, plus Tucker Carlson and Kanye West, running Gilead, lol. I shouldn’t laugh. It’s not funny.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for reading, Kev. Yeah, skip this one. It IS insulting. As for the Haitian slave revolt–I don’t know, but there should be. I’m sure you know it resulted in lots of problems for the slaves in America after that, since slave owners were terrified. But it also re-inspired African Americans to continue their rebellions.

    I just can’t believe that Haiti had to pay reparations to the French and only finished paying them off in the ’40s. No wonder they’ve never gotten back on their feet. Along with Thomas Jefferson’s racist reactionary response to refuse to recognize their independence and pushing policies to isolate them. “Founding fathers”, indeed!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve scrolled past Antebellum several times and tinkered with the idea of watching it….. I’m not going to now…. Great review Sel, I get the feeling your review is much more thought provoke/entertaining the the movie 😊
    Hope you’re well?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Aw, thanks. J. Yeah, it’s one of those things that can pull you in…then before you know it, your mouth is hanging open and you’re looking around the room, wondering where reality went. I just believe there are plenty of other stories besides slavery stories, you know?! And I’m well! Hopefully you and yours are also……? 🙂


  8. I wholeheartedly agree with you. It’s an embassingly sloppy movie. In a weird way, Antebellum perpetuates the same awful stereotypes it’s supposedly trying to condemn. Plus Janelle Monáe isn’t much of an actor — a better thespian could have suggested things that the script failed to address.

    By the way, I didn’t like Get Out either. And don’t get me started on the new Candyman movie! Good intentions don’t necessarily translate into a good movie.

    I much prefer the satirical fantasy Sorry to Bother You (2018) and the quasi-thriller Luce (2019). Neither movie is perfect, but at least they are saying something important about race relations in America without spoon-feeding the audience.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thanks for dropping by (after my nagging) lol.
    Yeah, my problem is I’ve seen slavery TV and slavery movies since I was a kid, starting with Roots when I was a teenager (and probably before, but I must be repressing them). There are SO MANY other fascinating stories about Black Americans, women who were entrepreneurs in the 1800s, men and women who invented things that we use today.

    And I agree about Janelle. And haven’t seen Candyman, but definitely will not now!
    We saw Sorry to Bother You and were pleasantly surprised. Definitely one of the better ones, as you say, not “spoon feeding” the audience.

    I thought Peele’s Us was a pretty good “spooker” and subtle commentary on “haves” and “have nots” in general, meaning anybody, instead of focusing on just one specific group of people. And the star of THAT, Lupita Nyong’o, was amazing, I thought.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Well, I have not seen that movie but I will skip it!
    For many years I did not watch movies, to about a few months that my internet company gave me HBO for free, and about once a week indulge on a movie, or two, maybe a series will caught my attention too, until I watch all the chapters your line:
    “I couldn’t stop wondering, like a tongue probing a sore tooth, why we were taking a ride down this particular road yet again,”
    Made sure I will not even click it! 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi, B.H. I know you’re not a big movie person, so thanks for commenting anyway, lol ! And in the long run, your brain is probably a lot fresher and less corrupted than those of us addicted to the silver screen. But yeah, in any case, never watch this movie for any reason. Not worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In my youth I was a movie theater addict, there was not TV in my town until I was about sixteen years of age, and it was very bad, somewhere about mid 90’s stop going to the movies, found them mostly boring, and from mediocre, to bad, not to say expensive, and threw my TV to the trash years ago when in LA, and living a few blocks from PSS near Sunset I couldn’t watch it, because cable companies changed the game, I got the converter, and it was useless, since then I stick to my computer.
      So rest assure, I will follow your advice.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Ha. I agree. The ’90s especially WERE mediocre, weren’t they? But even though the movie Network was decades ago and ahead of its time about many things happening now, none of us–except you–seem to be shouting, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not taking it anymore!” I can’t even imagine tossing our TV out! So that makes me a slave, of sorts. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Well, I toss the TV out of frustration, I knew if I paid cable, I could keep watching it, just in principle I refused to pay a cable fee for watching TV, when they already use your TV to bombard you with endless commercials!
    PBS was the only decent place where I could watch a few programs I liked, when the damn converter couldn’t get me PBS, that was within walking distance from my place, I just say the hell with it!
    Actually the TV was maybe not two years old, a gift from my company for being their star salesman.
    Anyway I am mainly a reader, and because of my blog I spend too much time on my computer, but it’s something I enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The commercial thing is SO true, too. My husband goes ballistic at their number and duration, especially if he’s somewhere else, like on YouTube and other channels where commercials shouldn’t even be!! I just see TV like thrift shops, where I enjoy going every so often. You really have to search for the buried treasure inside. Everything else is junk! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tell me about it! I use Youtube a lot, since you can find almost anything that may interest you there, but of course you also have to pay a fee, if you do not want to watch endless adds!!😒🤦‍♂️🤷‍♂️🤣


  15. My local thrift shop is floor to ceiling in discards and rubbish. If I’m prepared to fossick however I can usually find one or two good items. I do make use of a treasure map to locate them, namely the (electronic) program guide.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ha ha. I had to look up fossick. Thank you for the word of the day.
    The electronic program guide IS a treasure map, isn’t it? Very necessary for navigation and to avoid getting sucked down the proverbial rabbit hole of mindless drivel!


  17. Stacey, I haven’t seen that one and have no desire to see it. I admit I’m a sucker for what you call “revenge porn” and loved both “Django” and “Inglourious Basterds.” Are those movies I watch all of the time? No, but feeling that satisfaction even if only vicariously through film, is pretty danged good. I saw, “Us” and thought it was OK but that voice her doppelganger used really got on my nerves. I saw, “Sorry to Bother You” and really liked it and hope Boots makes more movies. Have you seen the series, “Lovecraft Country” yet? I thought it was brilliant, but it does have a lot of disturbing facets to it that you might not care for. If you have, I’d love to see you do a review on it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comments, Li. I agree–I don’t mind a little revenge porn from time to time, especially if well done. Believe it or not, my 94-year-old father, who is black, LOVES Django. You’d think he’d be insulted somehow or wave his had dismissively at it, right? But he LOVES it, lol. I also know what you mean about the “voice” the actress used in US. It was annoying me too but surprisingly didn’t diminish my admiration for the performance.
      As for Lovecraft Country….flipping Lovecraft lore to involve black people was a unique angle, for sure, especially considering how rabidly racist that author was–at least during his early years. We captioned it at work and I was gonna say I can’t comment on it, but now i see it was canceled. Unfortunately I haven’t seen enough to comment on it anyway, but thanks for suggesting it !!

      Liked by 1 person

      • First off, I love knowing that you have a 94-year-old father ❤ Have you asked him what it is that he loves about Django? The more I read about Tarantino films, the more I realize he's a love or hate kind of director. Maybe your dad loves Tarantino films? I'd love to hear what he thinks. Could you interview him about it and share it??? I wish I could have gotten past the voice, but to me it would be like Sean Connery talking like PeeWee Herman lol.

        Stacey, thank you for letting me know about Lovecraft's rabid racism. Turning his writing on its head reminds me of when U2 opened, "Rattle and Hum" with, "This is the song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles. We're stealing it back." I think the series is brilliant! My older son told me about it and so I found it at the library and borrowed it — twice! After watching it I talked with him about it and said, you mean there isn't going to be a season 2? He must have done some research on it as he said no, the creators of it only intended it to be one season. I can see why that would be. One very sad reality is that the dad in this, Michael Kenneth Williams, has passed away, and he was a key character in the series. It would not be the same without him.

        So very cool your workplace captioned it. So… if a series is active and your company captions it, you can't make comments on it?

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Dad just loves Django. He is NOT a Tarantino fan, lol. I could grill him a little bit about why he likes it so much, see what he says. He just did a Zoom presentation for some people at his old university and talked all about the doors that were constantly slammed in his face as he studied to become a dentist but also how various white people helped him at key points in his life, none of whom he’s ever forgotten.
    As for Lovecraft….I think the characters even mentioned his racism early on in episodes in a brief conversation. So yeah, it’s interesting. I first heard about sundown towns from this show. I might have known about them before but forgot. But then I looked up Burbank, where we live now, and yeah. It used to be one back in the day! I can’t even imagine. It’s so barbaric and absurd.
    And yes, we sign a nondisclosure agreement at work and can’t talk about the shows we work on. I couldn’t even have mentioned Lovecraft’s title if we were still working on it, much less anything about it. Lots and lots of security issues! 🙂


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