In just four years, Barry Jenkins has established his place among the very best of American filmmakers working today, so naturally he is hitting the next phase of his career, chiefly the blockbuster phase. He’s got a Disney project on the horizon, but first Jenkins will conquer television, directing all eleven episodes of The Underground Railroad, an adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize and Nation Book Award-winning novel. The Underground Railroad is an alternate history in which the Underground Railroad is an actual, underground train line, which we experience through the eyes of Cora, a runaway attempting to ride the rails to freedom. The Underground Railroad remixes some of the most famous pursuit narratives in literature, from Moby Dick to Les Miserables to The Diary of Anne Frank with American history in an inventive way. If you’re looking for something to read, The Underground Railroad is great.
I know many people are tired of slave narratives in cinema and of predominately telling Black stories that center on Black pain, but if Barry Jenkins wants to do…anything, I’m here for it. If he wants to adapt an award-winning novel that reimagines the Underground Railroad journey, I am not complaining, and I’m especially interested to see how he handles the alternate history stuff. If Beale Street Could Talk is immaculate in its period detail and authenticity, so I am curious to see how Jenkins combines his precision with the inventiveness of the novel. The teaser for the series, titled “Preamble”, isn’t giving us many clues, as it’s just a crowd of riders and conductors standing in a train station, but the lighting is beautiful. (Barry Jenkins use of light is essay-worthy.) I’m just excited to see what Jenkins does with eleven whole hours of storytelling. There are worse ways to spend our time in 2020 than immersed in one of Barry Jenkins’ impeccably realized worlds.