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Fugitive Fever Screening: Plantation Preoccupations, Screens of Subjection, and Freedom Dreaming in "Antebellum" and "The Underground Railroad"

Lee A. Flamand

Pages 133 - 152



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.

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American films have long preoccupied themselves with the plantation as a site for staging scenes of subjection and problematic dramas of emancipation. They are usually less invested in historical accuracy than in constructing barely veiled commentaries on contemporary racial politics. As such, uncomfortable questions of spectatorship, complicity, and liberation are often either deflected or sublimated. This work compares two recent iterations in this genealogy, "Antebellum" (2020) and "The Underground Railroad" (2021), within the context of the digital streaming platforms through which their consumption is most commonly mediated. While the former treats the plantation as a violent space of exception that erupts inexplicably upon the present and relies heavily on reproducing lurid spectacles in order to service conventional and often perversely comforting genre expectations, the latter maps out pervasive permutations of the plantation while developing a speculative Black aesthetic which contributes to radical traditions of freedom dreaming. Both remain captive to the opportunistic logics of platform capitalism: the most recent iteration of the plantation’s permutations.

Key Words: plantation; slavery; spectatorship; American film and television; "Antebellum"; "The Underground Railroad"; streaming platforms

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