Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins to adapt The Underground Railroad for Amazon

Colson Whitehead's acclaimed novel to become a limited series

One month after Moonlight’s historically surprising win for Best Picture at the Oscars, writer/director Barry Jenkins’ next project has found a home. Together with his production company Pastel and Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, Jenkins will adapt Colson Whitehead’s acclaimed novel The Underground Railroad as an Amazon original series.

Jenkins has been working on the project since September, just one month after Colson’s book was released. Amazon announced on Monday that it had signed on to develop the limited series for its Prime streaming service. As he did on Moonlight, Jenkins will once again serve as writer and director.

“Preserving the sweep and grandeur of a story like this requires bold, innovative thinking,” Jenkins said in a statement. “In Amazon we’ve found a partner whose reverence for storytelling and freeness of form is wholly in line with our vision.”

The show has yet to be officially given the green light, so there’s no word on how many episodes it might feature or when it will debut. Still, given the high-profile nature of the talent involved, it’s expected to skip the pilot process and go straight to series (via The New York Times).

The Underground Railroad is a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and was awarded a National Book Award. It follows a young slave in Georgia named Cora as she makes her break for freedom using an actual subterranean railroad. The novel combines historical poignancy with surreal imagery to tell a tale of “a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.” Read the complete Amazon synopsis below.

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 and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.


Follow Consequence