Barry Jenkins' 'Underground Railroad' Series Is an Adaptation of Colson Whitehead's Novel
One of 2 projects (that we know of) currently on "Moonlight" director's to-do list (following the multiple Oscar wins for the film last month) is a limited TV series based on celebrated author Colson Whitehead's latest novel, “The Underground Railroad,” which was published on August 2, 2016, and saw immediate success thanks in part to Oprah Winfrey naming it a Book Club pick, as well as critical praise from literary critics.
Jenkins is re-teaming with his "Moonlight" producers (Brad Pitt's) Plan B, and Adele Romanski, to adapt Whitehead's novel, which chronicles a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South.
The novel's official summary reads: 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. 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.
Oprah Winfrey, when she announced it as her latest Book Club selection, said: “Kept me up at night, had my heart in my throat, almost afraid to turn the next page. Get it, then get another copy for someone you know because you are definitely going to want to talk about it once you read that heart-stopping last page.”
Amazon Studios announced today that the company has picked up the project with a script-to-series commitment! No ETA at this time, but audiences can expect a limited series, each episode an hour long (number of episodes isn't public at this time).
Published by Doubleday, "The Underground Railroad" has sold over 825,000 copies in the United States across all formats.
"Going back to 'The Intuitionist,' Colson's writing has always defied convention, and 'The Underground Railroad' is no different," said Barry Jenkins. "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."
"Colson Whitehead's book is a sweeping, character driven, boundary destroying epic," said Joe Lewis, Head of Comedy, Drama and VR, Amazon Studios. "Having Barry bring it to life for Amazon Studios is thrilling. We couldn't be more excited to see what they create."
It joins other Underground Railroad-related series either already airing, like WGN's popular "Underground" series which is currently on its second season next year; and those that have been announced and currently in development, from 2 films on Harriet Tubman, and NBC's planned 8-hour miniseries "Freedom Run," to name a few.
"Moonlight" - released by A24 - continues to excel at the box office, building on its overseas earnings, surpassing $50 million in worldwide grosses as of this weekend.
Pick up a copy of Whitehead's "Underground Railroad" on Amazon here.
The book, published just over a month ago, is on my to-read list, which is a mile high, so I likely won't get to it for some time. But if you've already read it, do share your thoughts in the comment section below.
So, let the speculation begin; who should play Cora, the lead protagonist? I imagine this could be a career coup for an up-and-comer. Of course, a few things have to happen first between now and then. Although it would likely be best to first read the novel to get a feel for the character, before speculating on casting.
There could be an Emmy Award in Barry Jenkins' future as well.
Jenkins’ Pastel Productions will executive produce along with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment. Pastel was founded by Barry Jenkins, Adele Romanski and Sara Murphy as a home for artists to create provocative, boundary-pushing work in film, television and beyond.
Also on Jenkins' to-do list is a biopic on Gold medal Olympic boxer Claressa "T-Rex" Shields.