By Colin Munro Wood
Amazon Prime’s The Underground Railroad, based on Colton Whitehead’s 2018 novel, deeply reflects the personas of African slaves like no other production before.
“The whites came to this land for a fresh start and to escape the tyranny of their masters, just as the freemen had fled theirs. But the ideals they held up for themselves, they denied others.” ― Colson Whitehead, quote from The Underground Railroad.
Clearing up some confusion in social media I witnessed as I plowed through the ten episodes of the series, Colson Whitehead’s story is not based upon Harriet Tubman’s life or involvement in the real Underground Railroad, which to clarify, did not use railroads or trains.
This story follows a young woman named Cora Randall, a.k.a. — “Bessie,” and her incredibly horrific journey from the worst type of plantation possible to freedom in the north.
Vivid Emotions, Strength, and Characterization
South African actress Thuso Mbedu stands solid amidst several disturbing and soul-wrenching scenes, through the pain, challenges, and even hopelessness.
The focuses of The Underground Railroad, as well as the direction, search the souls and hearts of its viewers by showing Cora somehow surviving impossible situations and outcomes that would knock any human out of commission and into submission.
The horrific scenes will turn many off. Some early viewers stated on Facebook they had to stop watching and take a break. Others said they could not watch it after the opening scene, while other viewers saw what I saw, which is a very personal connection to the characters.
Throughout the series, every character, including the “bad guys,” are given true identities. No one is embellished or glorified in this series.
Many past shows and movies have only skated on the surface of the characters of slaves or did not show the true evil of slavery.
We witness the good and the bad in each character's life, and the flow of the story mixed with the raw and clear truth of what America allowed to happen for hundreds of years eventually pulls you deeply into the fight for survival and freedom by Cora, and other slaves and makes you feel like you are on that underground railroad to freedom with them.
The Road to Freedom
Cora’s story begins in Georgia, where she is born after her father has been killed and before her mother takes off on her as an infant, left to be raised by another woman who is extremely strict and tough on Cora.
Those are life-saving traits she passes down to Cora, knowing one day she will want to try to find her mother if she earns her freedom.
However, things do not go as planned for Cora on the plantation, and eventually, she escapes with her lover, and they first find themselves in South Carolina, where eventually they build up a comfortable and classy life in the section of South Carolina that allowed free slaves to live and create their own communities.
Without giving away vital details, a slave bounty hunter is hot on her trail throughout the whole film. After a narrow escape for Cora, where she loses her lover, she finds herself, with some help in North Carolina.
It is there she is caught, but then the story turns as the bounty hunter decides he needs to take care of his own personal matter prior to delivering Cora back to her slave owner in Georgia.
A Piece of Art
I must stop here because I could go on forever. The important thing to know and recognize is that this series is filmed like a piece of art.
The soundtrack is like nothing we’ve heard since the ’40s and 50s. The script is fantastic, and the acting is Oscar and Golden Globe worthy. Director Barry Jenkins dug deep to pull the reality of the times out of his actors, and scenes.
There are scenes that go slowly, and may even seem boring, but they are important in establishing what Whitehead was purposing to make his fictional story meaningful and thought-provoking.
Do not give up on the series when you think you might want to. It is worth getting to the end of an incredible journey of inspiration, and education for all.
It is an excellent production for Prime and everyone involved in the series, and I hope it makes a positive difference at such a crucial time in America’s history, and during the ongoing battle against racism, hate, and division.
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