Barry Jenkins Has Worked on The Underground Railroad Limited Series for 4 Years—and Now He's Gifting it to Us

Barry Jenkins at the BAFTA British Academy Film Awards on February 10, 2019; Thuso Mbedu in The Underground Railroad (2021)
Barry Jenkins at the BAFTA British Academy Film Awards on February 10, 2019; Thuso Mbedu in The Underground Railroad (2021)
Photo: Tolga Akmen/AFP (Getty Images), Screenshot: Amazon Prime Video/YouTube (Getty Images)

You know a Barry Jenkins-helmed series of frames when you see them—they are visual poetry.

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Jenkins, who is seemingly very intentional with the projects he chooses,, will be debuting his newest project, The Underground Railroad on Amazon Prime Video this spring. The series is based on Colson Whitehead’s award-winning novel of the same name. Along with directing all 10 episodes of the limited series, Jenkins serves as showrunner.

More info on the upcoming series, per Amazon’s official press release sent to The Root:

The Underground Railroad chronicles Cora Randall’s (newcomer Thuso Mbedu) desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. After escaping a Georgia plantation for the rumored Underground Railroad, Cora discovers no mere metaphor, but an actual railroad full of engineers and conductors, and a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil.

Over the course of her journey, Cora is pursued by Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton), a bounty hunter who is fixated on bringing her back to the plantation she escaped; especially since her mother Mabel is the only one he has never caught.

As she travels from state to state, Cora contends with the legacy of the mother that left her behind and her own struggles to realize a life she never thought was possible.

The Underground Railroad stars Thuso Mbedu, Chase W. Dillon and Joel Edgerton. Aaron Pierre, William Jackson Harper, Sheila Atim, Amber Gray, Peter De Jersey, Chukwudi Iwuji, Damon Herriman, Lily Rabe, Irone Singleton, Mychal-Bella Bowman, Marcus “MJ” Gladney, Jr., Will Poulter and Peter Mullan round out the cast.

Jenkins has been teasing out the upcoming limited series over the past several months with an array of sneak peaks in both photo and video form. On Thursday, the full official trailer was finally released.

“May 14th,” the helmer simply wrote in confirmation of the series’ release date. “The work of the last four years of my life... is yours.”

It has been a long time coming, as the project hit the industry trade news back in 2016. The series trailer actually comes at an interesting time as Black Twitter discusses and debates the traumatic images of Little Marvin’s and Lena Waithe’s Them. Overall, having the two different projects in the stratosphere may foster a more nuanced conversation around the concept of “Black trauma porn” and the general fatigue with (versus the validity of) American slavery narratives. After all, there is a difference between storytelling (with care) and exploitation. I guess we’ll see.

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In addition to The Underground Railroad, all eyes are on Jenkins’ future moves as he is also set to direct an Alvin Ailey biopic and he recently signed an overall TV deal with HBO and HBO Max, therefore ending his previous deal with Amazon Studios.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

DISCUSSION

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FeministOnFire

OMG, did that book deserve the Pulitzer! It was soooo good and Colson Whitehead is a genius for bringing the idea of an actual railway underneath soil to the page in such an allegorical, poetic, fantastical yet realistic way. It’s not Misery Porn, more like regular person-SuperHero stuff. That man is a genius!

His other really great book ‘The Nickel Boys’ a fictionalized novel based on an actual Florida Boys Reform School (Black Boy Torture Chamber/Concentration Camp) is a gut-wrencher! It’s not Black Misery Porn but he makes the story jump off the page so familiar-like because it fleshes out snippets of stories of how you know life was for Black folk back in the day. It’s got Black Boy Coming of Age elements of hopefulness and tenacity and Black Man Been Thru Some Thangs bits too! It flips character perspectives a couple of times then Mike Tyson Punches you right in the gut AND head simultaneously at the end so that your brain is SCRAMBLED!

I can’t say enough good things about Colson Whitehead books so if Barry took 4 years to put a series together on one, know that it will be worth your time and you’ll be better off having seen it!