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‘Antebellum’ ending explained: Janelle Monáe on the film’s emotionally charged conclusion

Janelle Monáe in a scene from "Antebellum."
(Matt Kennedy / Lionsgate)

Spoiler warning: The following story discusses the ending of the thriller “Antebellum.” If you haven’t seen the film and prefer to read less spoiler-y content, check out our review and interview with the filmmakers.

Lionsgate’s “Antebellum,” a psychological horror film about a Black woman forced into modern day chattel slavery, ends with its heroine, Veronica Eden (played by Janelle Monáe), riding triumphantly out of the Civil War reenactment park where she’d been held against her will.

The ending, which concluded with Monáe on horseback charging across a battlefield as police rushed in (presumably to her aid), “was why I said yes to the film,” the actress said.

“Like everybody, I’ve watched movies [about] slavery, but this wasn’t a slave movie,” she said. “It is more nuanced and layered and does a few things that make it more of a psychological thriller. And after reading the ending, I was like, ‘Yes, this is not a white savior film.’ There was triumph on the page, and that’s what I wanted to see. If I’m showing up to see a film that touches on slavery, I want it to have an ending that would leave me standing up and feeling victorious, not defeated.”

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“It was paramount that Veronica be victorious,” said Christopher Renz, who directed the film with longtime partner Gerard Bush. “But we did not want to tie everything up into a neat little bow after that because that’s not honest.”

“That’s kind of trademark for us to stop and give you something to think about,” said Bush. “And to have the imagination of the audience enter into the equation. We don’t have a lot of interest in stories with big bows tied around the box at the end. What we’re trying to say as we begin the movie at sunset and bookend it at the dawn of a new day is that you should be left thinking. We’re not here to provide you with all of the answers.”

Prior to riding into freedom, Veronica has a final face-off with her captor’s wife, Elizabeth, played by Jena Malone. “My fight scene with Jena was choreographed, but that was real rage,” said Monáe. “There was a lot of rolling around and moments when we would get scarred, scratched and bruised up in real life because there was so much pent-up energy. All I kept thinking about was all of the white women who went to vote for Trump. And all of the white women who sat there on the plantation as their husbands beat our ancestors. And about Emmett Till and the white woman who lied on him. I had to channel that during our fight. I had to really, without hurting Jena, fight her.”

The scene required Monáe to hop back into the saddle for the first time since suffering a horseback riding accident in 2010. “In one of my short films, ‘Many Moons,’ I wanted to rear a horse,"she said. “And during our rehearsals, one of the horses took off with me. It was at night and it was dark and I panicked and jumped off and bruised my tailbone. So I had to get over some fears doing this movie, and I knew that I would have to learn how to ride a horse again. I knew it was going to take me getting over that fear.”


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