Antebellum, the Janelle Monáe-led psychological thriller from the producers of Get Out and Us, hit streaming services this weekend, causing muuuuch discussion online.
Critiques aside, the film had many engaged viewers scratching their heads, desperate to rewatch it a second time to catch all of the Easter eggs or hidden messages they might’ve missed.
(Seriously, we’re about to spoil the entire movie so don’t continue reading if you haven’t watched Antebellum.)
ESSENCE spoke to the writer-director duo behind the film, Bush and Renz, who so graciously broke down what you might’ve missed about the film that centers on Monáe’s Veronica Henley, a scholar with a book titled Shedding The Coping Persona. It explains how Black people cope with traumatic situations. Veronica finds herself speaking to a New Orleans audience about her bestselling book when she’s kidnapped and taken to a Louisiana Civil War reenactment park called Antebellum.
Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz admitted that when they recently watched the film with historians and professors, who didn’t see the twist coming, initially they were perplexed.
“It was interesting speaking to them afterward because they found themselves just so angry in the first act about all of the ‘mistakes’ that we made. And then towards the end, they completely got it. And they were like, ‘Oh, my God. This would be completely different on a second watch,'” Bush recalled.
So if you’re up for a good rewatch, check out all the little eggs you might’ve missed:
Little Girl In Hotel Is Elizabeth's Racist Daughter
"She's at the hotel with her mother [Elizabeth (Jena Malone)]. When you see her in the elevator with Veronica (Monáe), because she's in that garb, you think of her as ghostly," Bush said. "The little girl is trying to demonstrate how Veronica is raising her daughter versus how Elizabeth is raising her daughter to hate. She's trying to raise her daughter as if the antebellum South still exists." The little girl is also holding a racist toy.
Veronica Went To An HBCU
She proudly wore her Spelman College sweatshirt in the film.
How They Captured Veronica
"The concierge at the hotel is also with Elizabeth in the [park's] dining hall." There's also racists from the reenactment park in the audience of Veronica's speech and in the restaurant. "So...they're around her and watching her constantly."
The Lipstick Was A Metaphor For The Relationship Between White And Black Women
"The reason that we put it into the movie is we wanted to demonstrate how -- and I want to say this in the most diplomatic way possible -- but how there is a certain faction or brand of white woman that covets the Black woman, that wants possession of what she is and has," Bush said.
Veronica Hints At Her Strategy To Escape Antebellum In Speech
"In her speech [about her book], without Veronica realizing it, she's actually creating the roadmap for how she's going to [escape Antebellum]. She says that their arrogance is their greatest vulnerability, and that they're not paying attention. Right? So she's basically giving you, giving the audience, a roadmap as to how she is strategizing when you think that she's being silent."
The Butterfly Tattoo On Julia's Ankle
"The butterfly tattoo represented that Julia, Kiersey [Clemons]'s character, was a disciple, a believer, a follower of that doctrine of Veronica Henley's, of the coping persona. So when she says, 'I know you. You're the one who can get us out of here. Why are you acting like this?' it's because she knows her." And on the cover of Veronica's book is a butterfly, representing change or a metamorphosis.
Why They Burned The Cotton
This egg might seem obvious, but it was because everyone there was reenacting the antebellum period. "They don't really need it," Renz added.
Significance Of Julia's Pregnancy Loss
Bush said it was important for this film about Black women to touch on medical racism. "These outcomes for Black women in motherhood, they're really, really poor outcomes," he added, "and we were combining that with Sandra Bland, and also the historic context of enslaved women who would hang themselves rather than see their children born into slavery."
What The "Airplane" Represented
"You remember when she says to her daughter, 'When you look up in the sky and you see that big airplane, you'll know that that's Mommy coming home to you?' So when she escapes and she crosses the Antebellum sign, and Vagabon's 'Home Soon' is playing, when the plane goes overhead, that is representing metaphorically that she's made it home."
They Sing "Lift Every Voice And Sing"
When Eli or Professor Tarasai begins to whistle and then the others captured start to whistle, they're whistling "Lift Every Voice And Sing." The song, which originated as a poem by James Weldon Johnson, wasn't created until after the antebellum era was over. So it's a nod that this is modern day.
Veronica's Love For Yoga Helped Her Escape
"She's constantly trying to figure out how to get out [of the cabin] without alerting [the captor and rapist]. And so she's memorizing the boards, which ones creak and which ones don't so that she can get out. And she's using everything from...her former life to her advantage to be able to liberate herself from this hell that is Antebellum."
Why Veronica Burned Her Captors
"I was tired of seeing us turn the other cheek. Veronica knew that justice wouldn't be served if she left it to the police, and if she left it to the powers that be. She took that into her own hands that these people need to be punished. What some people call revenge, for Black people, within the context of this movie, I call it justice. And also, metaphorically, it represents burning the whole thing down. When she walks away, she is the Black Lady Liberty, torch in hand. What we're saying is: we need a new America. We need to burn the whole thing down and build something new in its place."