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Barry Jenkins to Write and Direct Underground Railroad Drama for Amazon Studios

Written by on March 27, 2017 

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After his directorial break-through Moonlight picked up three Oscars, including Best Picture, and became the highest-grossing film in A24’s library so far, Barry Jenkins is now looking for his next project — and it won’t be on the big screen. It’s been known since last fall that Jenkins would be involved with an adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s best-selling book, The Underground Railroad, and now the project is moving forward.

Amazon Studios has announced today that Jenkins will write and direct the limited series, although an episode count hasn’t been revealed. “Going back to The Intuitionist, Colson’s writing has always defied convention, and The Underground Railroad is no different,” Jenkins said (via Variety). “It’s a groundbreaking work that pays respect to our nation’s history while using the form to explore it in a thoughtful and original way. Preserving the sweep and grandeur of a story like this requires bold, innovative thinking and in Amazon we’ve found a partner whose reverence for storytelling and freeness of form is wholly in line with our vision.”

the-underground-railroadThe hit book follows Cora, a young woman’s journey as she escapes her George plantation and discovers the titular network of people and tunnels on the road to freedom. Jenkins will re-team with Brad Pitt‘s Plan B for the project, but no casting has been announced yet. As we await more details, check out the Amazon synopsis below, along with a handful of videos about Moonlight and Jenkins’ career.

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage.


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