Why actress Janelle Monáe believes everyone should watch Antebellum

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Janelle Mona´e plays the character of Eden in American movie, Antebellum.
Janelle Mona´e plays the character of Eden in American movie, Antebellum.
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Sometimes you watch a movie for the fun of it, sometimes because everyone is talking about it.

But nothing could have prepared Drum journalist Bonolo Sekudu for the riveting and intense emotions that came with watching American film, Antebellum, which is due for release in South African on 30 October.

The film, by writer-director duo Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, was due for release in April but was pushed up when the world went into lockdown because of Covid-19. 

Watching the 105 minutes film alone in a private screening at a Johannesburg cinema was intense. After watching the movie, we talked to singer and actress Janelle Monáe, who plays the lead role. 

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The film tells a story that will have you scared, heartbroken and angry. It's a story about two eras - civil war time and modern day. As the title suggests, Latin for before the war, the film is based on a time in the 1800s in American history.

What begins with beautiful scenery at a plantation in that time soon turns into traumatic scenes of torture, cruel beatings of slaves and murders, which were daily occurrences for slaves.

Janelle Monae
Janelle Mona´e plays the character of Eden in American movie, Antebellum.

In an interview with DRUM, Janelle tells us what it took to get ready for the role.

“Well, I had to do a lot of meditation and prayer before I took on the role because I knew that it was going to asking for a significant amount of me emotionally and physically.”

Taking up this character meant that she had to be accustomed to new routines that would help her stay in character during the time the film was shot.

In the film, Eden does a lot running and physical activity and that meant that she had to adapt to a daily exercise regime.

“But just emotionally, I needed to stay in character and I needed to make sure that the spirit of my ancestors, as well as Veronika’s spirit shines through so there were times I would not be on the phone with friends and family because I did not want to break character. I am that sort of actor where I need to live the experience, some may call it method acting but I call it spirit acting,” Janelle adds.  

Janelle Monae
A surprise twist: Janelle Mona´e also plays Veronika on the horror-thriller.

The film then takes an unexpected turn when it shifts to modern day with Veronika, an accomplished and prominent author and educated black woman who's also played by Janelle. 

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“I hope that people will understand that the past is connected to the present. Some of the things we are experiencing now, the injustices in particular, the silencing of our races are deeply connected to our past,” she says.

While the civil war era has long passed, there are continued systematic prejudice that are experienced not just in America. 

“I hope we can figure out ways to have important conversations with our kids, with our friends, with our family members about race, about freedom of speech about what it means to be free in America and around the world.  I think that art, storytelling, and this film will bring some tough conversations to the forefront. Conversations that are long overdue and conversations that need to be had as they remind us not to not become desensitized to the injustice that are going on around us,” she tells DRUM. 

Despite the sometimes heaviness of the movie, Janelle hopes the audience will take away a few things from it, including how " strong black women no matter are where we come from”.

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