Barry Jenkins' dream arrangement The Underground Railroad is a full-power win

 Barry Jenkins' dream arrangement The Underground Railroad is a full-power win

The Twilight chief transforms alt-history into a restorative for over a hundred years of subjugation stories 

In Barry Jenkins' 10-hour recorded dream miniseries The Underground Railroad, lament is generational, as effortlessly passed down in a family as eye tone or hair surface. The Underground Railroad, adjusted by the Twilight chief from Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2016 novel, happens in before the war Georgia. However it'd be a misstep to consider the arrangement a slave account. There's just torment and enduring in a type initially built to end subjection by clarifying the repulsions of estate life to Northern white perusers.

That gaze leapt from literature’s pages to dominate contemporary movie screens in films like Amistad, 12 Years a Slave, The Birth of a Nation, and Antebellum. Jenkins eliminates that gaze, using slavery as the canvas for a journey toward freedom, and not just from pernicious slave catchers and brutal masters — from that generational regret.

Cora was just 10 years old when her slave mother Mabel (Sheila Atim) left her, running from their plantation to the North, never to be seen again. That betrayal left a wound in the adult Cora (Thuso Mbedu), and rage festered there. Cora now considers her mother a monster, and herself a blight on the world. To complete her journey out of slavery, she has to escape not just the plantation, but the hate she’s latched onto Mabel. She must learn to forgive, and to see herself as whole again. For these reasons, Whitehead and Jenkins’ The Underground Railroad isn’t a story of dehumanization, but re-humanization.

As the series begins, the undaunted Caesar (a stunning Aaron Pierre) speaks of escape to Cora. His robust frame and piercing hazel eyes hide several truths: He can read, and he knows a way off the plantation. He wants Cora to join him, believing she holds her mother’s good luck. But she doesn’t consider herself special. Only after a string of horrifying events that make the series premiere the hardest episode to stomach does she accept Caesar’s gentle support and escape with him. Across the Georgia landscape, through thick woods and murky swamps — welcome reminders of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood — they perilously travel in search of a station house.

When I first heard the phrase “the underground railroad” as a child, I thought it was a literal locomotive churning under the surface, transporting Black people to salvation. Jenkins makes that fantasy a reality. In this fabled alternate universe, there’s a system of smartly dressed porters, dark tunnels, bending rails, and beautified trains, where mystical fairy dust seems to emanate from the locomotives’ hard-charging orange glow.

Some stations merely operate out of caves, while others are ornately tiled like New York City subway stations. Not every line connects. A terminal can be abandoned or deemed unsafe for travel, usually due to a rise in white racial violence in the area. Before a passenger may board the train, they must provide their testimony for the station master to record, in a ledger not unlike those used to track the sales of slaves at auctions.

While other filmmakers mold slave narratives around suffering in order to prove Black history’s worth — whether through shocking violence or jolting screams like the ones that dominate Antebellum — Jenkins stands unencumbered. It’s not that he’s abolishing the white gaze, or consciously speaking to a specific Black tenor. He tells a human story first, imbuing personhood in Cora’s sly smile and Caesar’s ardent orations. He knows their inherent importance will flow as naturally as water through a channel to the audience, making their obstacles all the more felt.

Either promised land or dystopian hell” is how film professor Paula Massood once described Black literature’s attitudes toward the city. Likewise, the description applies to Cora’s journey westward, a Southern Gothic odyssey partly caused by infamous slave catcher Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton), who failed to track down Mabel, and is now desperate to capture Cora. He’s accompanied by Homer (Chase W. Dillon), a precocious Black boy, dressed in a fine suit and mustard-yellow bowler hat. Their friendship mirrors that of Daniel Plainview and H.W. in There Will Be Blood:


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