I made a promise to myself that despite the desire to emphasize the classics and slashics of horror, I would work diligently to also consistently include films, even if they are modern, that emphasize minority voices and characters that come from marginalized communities. I could have thrown in one of Peele’s films in here (and they will arrive on this list) as they are the embodiment of the new wave of horror: woke horror, but, instead, I wanted to offer up a film that won’t be around too much longer as it is currently in its rental capacity on streaming services. This film, a balance between past and present, is bound to be a future staple in the stable that is woke horror and the genre as a whole.
That film is “Antebellum.”
As is very clear in my early selections, and what will ultimately follow this bonus pick, I have a viewing bias toward films, as “Scream” would so consciously blast,” that “say a prayer for the youth of America.” The Birdbrain song serves as an anthem for the genre and its rules, but the genre as a whole quite often neglected a core audience and population: the Black community. “Scream” even makes an explicit joke about this in its first sequel when Jada Pinkett Smith and Omar Epps openly joke about Black characters being offed in the opening sequences of a horror film. This call for change came over two decades later.
Janelle Monáe, known for her musical prowess, answered this call in the 2020 directorial debuts of Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. Her work in “Antebellum” is nothing shy of psychological and horror brilliance, and the script, co-written by the directors, keeps the audience on their toes and guessing until the very end.
The film emerges from modern tensions of race and class, and traces these through the history of the slavery in Antebellum America, where the film get’s its namesake. The back-and-forth of the scene setting doesn’t jar the viewer, rather, it adds this beautiful complexity of visual and verbal with Monáe center stage. The supporting cast helps weave the harsh and dark narrative throughout, with Gabourey Sidibe giving us the necessary breaks from the pain and heartbreak through both solid one-liners and sexual comedy. Yet, Sidibe’s work doesn’t distract or detract from the overarching story being told; instead, she embraces her sexuality and the slavery of look and normativity that women are subjected to society. In many respects, her story emerges from the overarching story being told.
What I adored most about this film is that you never know what’s next and you never know what the outcome is until it actually occurs. I tend to hate seeing movie trailers, especially those for horror films, as they give away some of the major plot points in order to get butts in the seats. “Antebellum” doesn’t do that. Actually, I saw it as a totally different film in the trailers. It is a film that is truly woke, and exemplifies the pain of the Black community and their desire to not only be recognized by the horror genre, but also by the greater global community.
I am burying the lead here. The film is brutal. It is dark. It is painful. I can take a lot from this genre, but this film certainly pushed me to my limits. Yet, it isn’t because of the traditional horror elements that made this film difficult. It was because of the reality of what was on screen and the moments in which film mirrored reality at this very moment. Quite possibly this film could be viewed differently in 20 years. Maybe I won’t find it as haunting or beautiful or effective then. But I doubt that. I see this film as being the emblazoned story of a movement and people dying to get recognition. It is also edited and shot stunningly.
Beware. It is rough.