'The Underground Railroad': Barry Jenkins Shares First Look at the Amazon Series

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Underground Railroad
Amazon

The Underground Railroad is coming to life. Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins shared several first looks at his anticipated series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which stars newcomers Thuso Mbedu as Cora and Chase W. Dillon as Homer as well as Damon Herriman, Joel Edgerton, Lily Rabe and William Jackson Harper

Taking place in an alternate history, the nine-part Amazon series will follow Cora’s harrowing journey to freedom after escaping a Georgia plantation in the antebellum South for the rumored Underground Railroad, which is a secret network of tracks and tunnels run by engineers and conductors. 

In the first video, “Randall. Cora Randall.,” Jenkins reveals the first official look at Mbedu as Cora, a lonely slave who was outcast by others on the plantation after her mother abandoned her. 

The second video, “Preamble,” offers another look at The Underground Railroad. As the video pans over passengers as well as the conductors and engineers who run the secret network, a voice is heard asking, “Who built all this?” Another answers, “Well, who builds anything in this country?”

The director also posted a few photos of scenes from the upcoming series, which elicited praise from fellow filmmakers Ava DuVernay, Justin Simien and others.

The imagery is both powerful and provocative, with Jenkins, who is famous for his work helming Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk and a standout episode of Dear White People, evoking the United States Constitution as well as visualizing an alternative version of Black history in America. 

After earning an Emmy nomination for playing Chidi Anagonye on The Good Place, Harper’s return to TV will be as Royal. Going from the NBC comedy to the historical drama caused a little bit of whiplash for the actor. “I was like, ‘Oh boy, I’ve got to go from this very light, optimistic show to something that is very grounded and very dark and very real,’” he recalled to ET. “And it was strange. It took me a second to get my bearings, but hopefully I did.” 

When asked how the series will resonate with audiences once it’s finally released, Harper said he hopes “that people can watch this and really connect with the story and get angry. I would also hope that people would take that time to examine who they would be in that world.”

Admittedly, Harper finds stories dealing with slavery and injustices like this hard to watch. “Anytime I see a story like this, I’m not able to look at it as a [TV show]. It’s very personal. It makes me mad,” he said, while adding that can be a good thing. “I think it’s good to see injustice like this and to get angry and to have a real opinion.”

No release date has been announced for The Underground Railroad at this time. 

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