Colson Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad is a necessary reading for the ways it transcends a violent history and navigates the magic of self determination and Black personhood. The novel, published in 2016 and winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book awards for fiction, follows the life of Cora and Caesar, two slaves in 19th century Georgia who take on the treacherous journey that is their freedom. The novel is bold, loving, and powerful, and with its serving as the basis for director Barry Jenkins’ (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk) Amazon series by the same name, it has become necessary viewing.
Jenkins works from a place of love, and The Underground Railroad is a testament to the care and consideration he, and the ensemble cast that lead this narrative, take to bring us a moving experience. The powerhouse performances of Thuso Mbedu (Cora) and Aaron Pierre (Caesar) communicate all the anguish, fury, and magical realism Whitehead infuses in the novel. Joel Edgerton as the notorious slave catcher Ridgeway, Sheila Atim as the ever-present Mabel, and William Jackson Harper as the kind-hearted Royal round out the series in ways immensely profound and heartbreaking.
I sat down with Jenkins and the cast to talk about the project’s impact on them and what they hope audiences take away from it as well. You can find our conversation in full below and be sure to check out The Underground Railroad when it premieres on Prime Video May 14.