A modern-day social activist finds herself traveling back in time to the 1800s in Antebellum, a new horror drama written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. It’s produced by Sean McKittrick, who also co-produced Get Out (2017) and Us (2019). McKittrick and company have been holding their cards pretty close to their chest regarding specific details about the film, and this latest trailer is no exception. But what little we do know about the premise bears a striking resemblance to science fiction author Octavia E. Butler’s 1979 novel Kindred.
The official premise is short and sweet: “Successful author Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe) finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality and must uncover the mind-bending mystery before it’s too late.” When the first teaser dropped last November, it didn’t shed much more light on the matter. It was little more than ominous music playing over brief glimpses of footage and a voiceover asking repeatedly, “9-1-1, what is your emergency?”
It was clear, however, that Veronica was shifting between the 1800s and the present day. The cast also includes Marque Richardson II, Eric Lange, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, Tongayi Chirisa, Gabourey Sidibe, Rob Aramayo, Lily Cowles, and Jena Malone, although their specific roles remain unknown.
This latest trailer sheds a bit more light on Veronica’s character and opens with her giving an inspiring speech. “We’re expected to be seen, not heard,” she tells an enthusiastic crowd. “But we are the future. Our time is now.” She’s a sociologist, an activist, and a bestselling author. But one night she sees a little blonde girl in 19th-century garb standing in the hotel hallway. “I can tell you’re special,” we hear a woman say. And then Veronica is kidnapped and shoved into a car.
Cut to Veronica in a tattered green dress with a checkered bandana on her head, in the middle of a cotton field. Slaves are hard at work under the watchful eye of soldiers who don’t seem hesitant to use violence to keep their charges in line. “The world has to find out about this,” a male voice declares, most likely referring to the central mystery touted in the official premise. The only other clue lies in the tagline: “What if fate chose you to save us from our past?”
On the surface, Antebellum shares elements with Butler’s novel, now considered a classic work of African American literature. (Butler herself described the book as a “kind of grim fantasy.”) Both feature a young African American woman, a writer, who travels back to the pre-Civil War, slave-holding days of the 19th century. And the antebellum South is hardly a safe space for a woman of color, even more so if said woman has a modern sensibility.
Kindred mainly focused on the personal family history of its protagonist to explore its themes of gender, race relations, and the balance of power, among other things, all with an eye toward bringing history to vivid emotional life. The time-travel element was just a handy mechanism. Antebellum is likely to be more broadly focused and much more in the spooky horror/thriller vein of Get Out and Us. Plus it’s based on an original script by Bush and Renz, so it’s not a straight-up adaptation.
Antebellum opens in theaters on April 24, 2020.
Listing image by YouTube/Lionsgate