There are many villains in Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz’s feature debut “Antebellum,” but none quite as vivid as Jena Malone’s nefarious plantation owner Elizabeth. A nasty piece of work in her own right, the character emblematizes the forces of oppression that power the film’s narrative. Built upon a consciously convoluted timeline, complete with editing misdirection and a chopped-up storyline, “Antebellum” follows Janelle Monáe as both successful modern author Veronica Henley and antebellum-era slave Eden, presenting the wholly different experiences of two Black women until the film mashes them together in unpredictable ways.
Suffice to say that Veronica and Eden intersect (to get into deeper detail would spoil the film), and while they are bonded by a litany of shared problems, none feel as immediate as the evil Elizabeth. It’s the kind of role that seems scary for a performer: Not only is she’s such a monster, but “Antebellum” also doesn’t shy from inserting that monster into the current culture. The racist ideology of a late-18th century plantation mistress is here and now, and as terrifying as ever.
For Malone, who has been acting since she was a child and has resisted easy classification as a performer, she regarded any fear as only a good thing. “I’ve never been the type of person to be really scared of characters that aren’t easy to bring to life, I guess, is the nicest way [to put it],” Malone said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “That whole spectrum of ‘villain-hood,’ things that are not easy to like, not easy to understand, those things never terrified me.”
Malone said she regards fear as existing on its own spectrum. “On the larger end of the spectrum of fear, it sort of renders you immobile, it can debilitate your choices, and you don’t really have much room to move,” she said. The actress prefers to live where things are more exciting than scary, which is how she felt about “Antebellum.”
“I felt some weird obligation to step in there and be like, ‘Now, let’s just wait. Hold your horses. Let’s see who this person is. Yes, they’re a villain, but let’s see what motivates them. Let’s see what scares them, let’s see how generational trauma affects them as well,’” the actress said. “They interest me more than anything, because I feel like there’s some sort of public duty of understanding those types of stories, because …read more