The movie grew out of a literal nightmare that co-writer-director Gerard Bush had after his father died. He awoke remembering “this woman, Eden, that was screaming desperately for help that felt like cross-dimensional in a sense.”
“I was really emotional from the experience. And I took out my notepad and took all of the notes from the nightmare,” Bush said.
Bush and filmmaking partner Christopher Renz say they used 1970s horror films as inspiration. They hope to unsettle audiences when depicting terrors of the pre-abolition South. The Oscar-winning 1939 film “Gone With the Wind” became a touchstone. Bush describes it as both a “horror film” and “a piece of really effective propaganda.”
“We went so far as to obtain the lenses from ‘Gone with the Wind’ to shoot our movie so that we could take that same weaponry that was intended to misinform, to correct the record,” Bush said.
In addition to Monae, the cast also includes Jack Huston, Eric Lange, Kiersey Clemons, Gabourey Sidibe and Jena Malone.
Like many films this year, the pandemic has led to multiple delays in releasing “Antebellum.” Bush notes the significance of the settled final date: “We didn’t do it deliberately. But it just so happens that the date of September 18th is the anniversary of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850,” he said.
Bush said he realizes that audiences will be uncomfortable watching the film, but he believes that unsettling times calls for unsettling art.
“We need to catalyze a national dialogue or advance the dialogue around this country’s original sin. I think that we’re going to need to confront it head on and dismantle the scaffolding that keeps these inequities in place so that we can build something new, more equitable for everyone,” Bush said.