Before 2020, drawing a connection between Gone with the Wind and the alt-right would seem flimsy at best. But not only did that already happen in our headlines, it’s happening in Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz’s horror film Antebellum. The upcoming psychological horror thriller from the first-time feature directors imagines a world where the pre-Civil War South and the present are intertwined. And the ones bringing those worlds together are Jena Malone and Jack Huston‘s characters Elizabeth and Captain Jasper, respectively. The unquestionable villains of the film, Elizabeth and Jasper are both a representation of the Antebellum South and current-day white supremacist movements like the alt-right, both of which Malone and Huston drew inspiration from while getting into the roles.
“It felt so important [to show] the crumbling facade of how racist and backwards Gone with the Wind really is, and just allowing that film to sort of be regurgitated into this higher, more elevated — like a completely different purpose,” Malone told /Film in a Zoom interview ahead of the VOD release of Antebellum.
“This is a magnifying glass on our history, and we need to own up to it, we need to face it, and we need to talk about it,” added Huston.
Read our interview with Jena Malone and Jack Huston below.
When the two of you when you first read the script by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, what was your reaction?
Malone: Well as an audience member, I was blown away because they were able to sort of pull the proverbial rug out from underneath me on a continual basis. As a mother, I felt like my heart was sort of getting pulled out and examined. I felt like there was a lot of cathartic wound work like simultaneously trying to understand social justice, why uplifting the Black experience was really incredible. And just beyond anything I felt like it felt so important [to show] the crumbling facade of how racist and backwards Gone with the Wind really is, and just allowing that film to sort of be regurgitated into this higher, more elevated — like a completely different purpose. I mean the fact that they also even reformatted the lenses that Gone with the Wind was shot on, that’s what this film was shot on. I mean, everything was so purposeful. And first time directors, I have a soft spot for. To see their vision coming to life, and how they learn that vernacular, it’s really cool.
Huston: It’s so true. It’s one of those scripts you read, and you’re sort of bowled over because you’re not expecting it. It’s unexpected every time and it truly deeply affected me. I had a pretty, pretty overwhelming reaction. And then when I got on the phone with Gerard, I sort of got very emotional, and then got very serious and went through all these different stages. But then it was a very easy decision. It was a very hard, and a very easy decision; hard because you knew you had to embody somebody who was sort of the amalgamation of all of the worst nightmares of our history, of who we are and what we’ve done. But at the same time, the responsibility far outweighed that, because we were telling a story that was so important. People might say that the movie is very shocking, is very brutal, is very harsh. But you know the scariest part was when I read accounts of slaves, of the conditions they lived in, of the things that happened to certain people. I mean, we couldn’t even put half of the things in the movie, and that’s what’s scary. This is a magnifying glass on our history, and we need to own up to it, we need to face it, and we need to talk about it. You know, voice, one people.
You guys of course play the villains of the piece, and we can’t talk about your characters without talking about how they reflect on current-day movements and the troubling resurgence in racism that has risen to the surface since the 2016 election. Can you guys talk about that and the parallel that was drawn with your characters?
Malone: What’s interesting about that is the literal historical lines between pre-police brutality, even pre-police, was slave catchers. I mean, this was a real thing, this was what preceded our modern-day police department. And before that, what was before slave catcher? An enslaved person catcher. It was the slave owner. The enslaved person owner, that was the person who had full jurisdiction over the dehumanization of another physical body. Basically, the torture, the trauma, the great rituals built around their humiliation. I mean, that’s how the country was founded. It’s deeply built into every invisible legislative government, every rule. Even just within the history books that will be taught, that would have been taught to my son, had he entered first grade, it would have been the same sight type of erasing whitewashed history. But it’s so beautiful, seeing how we can wake up from that, because it is a delusion, it’s like the white supremacy delusion. It’s an indoctrination. There is change and there is movement out of that. And I think that what this film bridges so beautifully is the sort of deep ties between history and the present, and how those are the things that need to be examined for new roads to be built.
Huston: I think when I read it I knew this was going to be an important film. I just didn’t know quite so how important this film was going to be. It’s amazing how that sort of transpired. And that, first, going through the pandemic then obviously George Floyd leading to the mass protests, and you know, injustice that has been delivered for hundreds of years. And it’s come to a boiling point. And this film embodies that message, and that feeling that enough hate, you know, enough. You know, anger, hatred, this bigotry, this systemic racism that sort of surrounds us in our courts, in our schools, at work, police, healthcare, everywhere we look, this exists. It’s present. It’s the pas,t it’s present, and it will be the future. And it’s sometimes it takes art — art can be a platform for expression and art is free to express. And this, in its truest sense is that; it does tie beauty and horror, it’s painting a very honest, truthful, and bleak picture of the world we live in and the world that we will continue to live in unless we start discussing this crap.
So there have been a lot of films that, like Get Out for example, which this film has all sorts of ties to, that speak to that the Black Lives Matter movement and issues of racism that are resurging. What do you think Antebellum specifically adds to the conversation?
Malone: I think it’s that bridge work that maybe I was talking about before about bridges lead you towards something, and it sort of helps you understand the journey of how you got there and why we’re there and how much hard work, it was necessary to build something between the two. And I think that no film has really ever addressed how deeply. We are still living in a lot of ways, in the sort of Antebellum South, and how there was the delusion, and sort of self-protection system that was built at that time it’s the same system that we’re using today. So I think that it’s a hard thing to comprehend, because you want to trust, you want to believe, you want to think that your vote matters and, you know, you vote in great politicians and it’s going to change things. But really it’s the structure that has to change. And I think that how this film, through entertainment and almost this sort of superhero story of this Black woman, can get us there is just incredible. You know, I’ve never seen a film like it. And I think that’s why it’s just so important that it’s seen right now, and that’s why we’re putting it out into your phones, and into your computers, and in your televisions and, you know, homemade projectors that you’ve taped on the wall, because if it’s not seen right now, this was the moment that it was made for. It’s the time, and I’m really excited to see it enter into the collective.
Huston: Yeah, I mean Jena said it best. Other films have addressed racism, but they haven’t addressed our past and shone a light in such a way. And there’s a great line that when we read the script, the first thing was a quote from William Faulkner, which I think opens the film, which said “the past is not dead, it’s not even past.” I think those words have never felt so true. Isn’t that amazing? That we’re 400 years on right now and we’re sitting here talking, looking out of our windows and seeing the outcry around the world. I’m just sort of stunned and baffled, and confused and confounded that this is the world today. This is the world we live in. And we need a movie to show history. And do we want to be on the right or wrong side of it?
Antebellum hits VOD on September 18, 2020.
/Film – ‘Slash Film: ‘Antebellum’ Villains Jena Malone and Jack Huston on Drawing Inspiration From ‘Gone With the Wind’ and the Alt-Right [Interview]’
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September 17, 2020