‘Antebellum’: Janelle Monáe Responds to Critics, Saying ‘This Is Not a Slave Movie’

Musician and actor Janelle Monáe stars in the 2020 psychological horror Antebellum. The film, which debuted on video-on-demand on September 18, 2020, earned mixed reviews from critics in the weeks leading up to its release. Discover how Monáe is defending Antebellum, and why she thinks it’s a movie everyone needs to experience.

Janelle Monáe stars in ‘Antebellum’

Janelle Monáe attends the Chanel show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2020/2021 on March 03, 2020 in Paris, France.
Janelle Monáe attends the Chanel show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2020/2021 on March 03, 2020 in Paris, France. | Julien Hekimian/Getty Images

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Monáe took on the role of Victoria in Antebellum, her first-ever starring film role. The movie depicts her character, a 21st-century author, as she is somehow transported back in time, where she finds herself a slave (known as Eden) on a plantation in the 19th century.

“The themes in this film are very sensitive for both sides. If you are a white actor coming into this, [or] a Black actor, it’s sensitive and you have to tread lightly,” Monáe told Entertainment Weekly. Co-starring with her in the film are Jena Malone, Kiersey Clemons, Gabourey Sidibe, Eric Lange, and many more.

What drew her to the film

Simply calling this subject matter controversial isn’t enough. And while Monáe acknowledges this, she felt an obligation to tell this story. “It wasn’t an easy yes because I knew emotionally, it was going to take a lot for me to honor my ancestors,” she said. Monáe was drawn to the way Antebellum contains relevant universal themes.

“The things that were appealing to me were that [the film] was centering the Black woman, and centering her voice,” said Monáe of her choice to sign on. “I thought that was super important to highlight globally systemic racism, white supremacy, microaggressions — [they’re] all connected.”

Monáe rejects criticism calling it ‘a slave movie’

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Not everyone is a fan of Antebellum’s approach. “I am tired of films about slavery refusing to acknowledge the interior lives of Black women even as their beings become tools for filmmakers to explore the horrors of the enslaved,” said Vulture critic Angelica Jade Bastién in her review.

“This is not a slave movie, and this is not a white savior movie,” Monáe countered. “Most of the films I’ve watched over the years that deal with this very evil system have predominantly been white savior films. I don’t think that [they hold] white folks accountable in the way that they should. It absolves them.”

Why she thinks everyone should watch ‘Antebellum’

Regardless of how Antebellum may “trigger” people across the board, Monáe feels the message is necessary. She explains that it can act as “a mirror for those who are not committed to being anti-racist.” And she specifically calls out white people, who she believes can take an important message from the film.

“I really want white people to watch this film,” said Monáe. “I hope [it shows] people who don’t get why Black lives matter, who have benefited from these systems that have not been built for Black lives, [to] stop perpetuating the delusions of white supremacy globally.”