Like so many planned theatrical releases in the COVID-19 age, the upcoming Janelle Monáe horror film Antebellum has had a bit of a wild ride in 2020. First teased in late 2019, with vague but alarming imagery and a promise that it was another racially aware feature from Get Out producers Sean McKittrick and Raymond Mansfield, Antebellum was scheduled for an April 2020 release date. Then the endlessly sliding film-release schedule bumped the film to August. Then it was briefly pulled from release schedules altogether.
But, now the plan is apparently to bring the film to digital and on-demand platforms next month. Frankly, that’s a relief, because the latest trailer is a provocation that’s more exciting than any of the previous content teases. It’s been clear all along that Janelle Monáe’s protagonist, successful modern-day author Veronica Henley, somehow becomes unstuck in time, and winds up either living in the pre-Civil War South, or somehow channeling the experiences of someone who’s stuck there.
The latest trailer adds an intriguing new twist — the prospect that she’s been pushed through time specifically by a secret cabal that resents her success and wants to take her out of the picture. Previous teases about Antebellum looked suspiciously like Octavia Butler’s tremendous novel Kindred, about a present-day Black woman jumping back and forth between life on a slave plantation and life in the era where she was born. Now, for the first time, Antebellum looks like a noticeably different story, and a highly relevant one for the Black Lives Matter era — a story specifically about a woman fighting for her life and freedom against racists who feel threatened by her place in society.
Antebellum is now scheduled for digital release in America on Sept. 18. A theatrical release is still planned for international audiences.