Barry Jenkins’s The Underground Railroad, based mostly on Colson Whitehead’s bestseller of the same name, wastes no time in illustrating the tragic horrors of enslavement. Amazon’s miniseries opens with scenes of languish and ache, exhibiting the flogging of a girl and little one — I needed to pause a number of occasions whereas watching simply to catch my breath. Jenkins makes an attempt to shed mild via the imagery and cinematography; nonetheless, it fails to overshadow the cumulative darkness of the establishment of enslavement’s psychological and bodily destruction of Black our bodies. Hollywood has after all depicted enslavement in TV and movie earlier than (2013’s 12 Years a Slave, 2020’s Antebellum, and so forth.), nonetheless, what makes The Underground Railroad completely different is its deal with the folks as absolutely developed characters, and never the situation of enslavement itself. The characters are introduced as actual, layered, advanced, with the flexibility to specific hope, anger, love, ache, and company — conveyed in each phrases and silence.
The story follows Cora (brilliantly performed by Thuso Mbedo) and Caesar (Aaron Pierre) who escape from their plantation in Georgia to a literal railroad in the hunt for freedom, heading North. As Cora makes an attempt to dwell a life freed from bondage, she quickly discovers that enslavement continues to be manifesting in merciless methods, even when off the plantation. With every cease on the underground railroad, Cora experiences what researcher and professor Dr. Joy Degruy calls Post Traumatic Slave Disorder (PTSS), a situation detailing the residual impact and multigenerational affect of chattel enslavement on Black communities.
As America experiences a racial reckoning a 12 months following the brutal homicide of George Floyd, Jenkins feels prepared to have interaction us in a dialog on the legacy of enslavement past that of historic truth. As Jenkins gives in his director’s observe, “The necessity to inform the reality with out being devoured by the barbarity of that reality . . . is the toughest endeavor I’ve ever tried in my inventive life.” Jenkins’s want to inform this reality doesn’t reduce the fullness of the characters, the place even because the viciousness of enslavement unfolds on display screen, we don’t lose sight of Cora as a girl, daughter, and human being.
Jenkins providing up absolutely realized characters impartial of enslavement not solely humanizes them, but it surely additionally permits for the viewers to be extra conscious of the implications of present-day racism and systemic oppression that persists inside on a regular basis life. In a single excruciating scene, the enslaved are summoned to view considered one of their very own be repeatedly whipped after which burned alive. They watch in horror, feeling helpless and unable to intervene. It is unattainable not to attract a parallel to what the witnesses of George Floyd’s homicide endured: a scenario of unspeakable violence the place they too couldn’t intervene for worry of their very own security. If not for the bravery of 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, who pulled out her cellular phone desperation to doc the incident, who is aware of if the fatality would have result in one of many largest social justice actions within the trendy period.
That is exactly what Jenkins is making ready us for: a second of confrontation, to which we will ask ourselves our accountability inside this cruelly designed system and its profound ripple impact of systemic racism, racial violence, trauma, and internalized oppression that continues to decimate the Black neighborhood. Jenkins’s brilliance as a director and storyteller doesn’t reduce the blow of the excruciating pictures and haunting sounds of the Antebellum South that he extends over a 10-episode arc.
The Underground Railroad is an epic story of magical realism, serving to remind us that as shared within the movie, “we will escape slavery and but its scars won’t ever fade.” America, in its incapability for reality and reconciliation, continues to be not free from its authentic sin, each in fantasy and actuality.