Barry Jenkins hits the small screen with The Underground Railroad trailer

In the director’s ambitious Amazon miniseries, the network for escaped slaves takes on a more literal form.


Charles Bramesco


The films of Barry Jenkins have formed a collage of Black life through the years, from the midcentury period of If Beale Street Could Talk to the lifelong sprawl of Moonlight. For his next project, he’s going back to the roots of African-American identity and tackling the delicate topic of slavery head-on.

The first trailer for his new miniseries The Underground Railroad has surfaced online, promising a more expansive vision over its ten episodes than a feature run time can hope to contain. In the adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer-winning historical fiction novel, an escaped slave named Cora (Thuso Mbedu) makes her way from Georgia to the promise of freedom along the famed route through the South, albeit with some key alterations to the factual record.

While the “Underground Railroad” was in actuality a network of houses and other refuges hospitable to Black men and women on the run, in the miniseries, it’s represented as a literal subterranean train system ferrying former slaves to safety. Cora and her companion Caesar (Aaron Pierre) embark upon a perilous odyssey northward, their stretches on the locomotive punctuated by harrowing experiences in an America governed by unveiled racism.

Not one but two Midsommar bit players (Will Poulter and William Jackson Harper) appear as a photographer and conductor, respectively, along with a supporting cast that collects Joel Edgerton, Chase W Dillon, Damon Herriman, Lily Rabe, and stage sensation Amber Gray. They play friends and foes to our pair of journeying heroes, peopling a world fraught with tragedy and yet not without hope.

Jenkins has amply proven himself to be one of the most prodigiously talented filmmakers of his generation, and seeing those skills flourish on the wider-yet-smaller canvas offered by the streaming format is an enticing prospect indeed. The trailer has all the hallmarks that have endeared his work to cinephiles – lush cinematography, poignant close-up work, the swooning music of Nicholas Britell. The spring’s biggest release may not be a movie, but it’s almost here.

The Underground Railroad comes to Amazon on 14 May.

Published 16 Apr 2021

Tags: Aaron Pierre Barry Jenkins Joel Edgerton Lily Rabe Thuso Mbedu Will Poulter William Jackson Harper

Suggested For You

Watch: Barry Jenkins in Colour

By Luís Azevedo

This new video essay explores the director’s evocative use of colour, from Medicine for Melancholy to If Beale Street Could Talk.

Barry Jenkins: ‘Where I come from, people just don’t have the means to make a film’

By Adam Woodward

The Moonlight director discusses the value of film school and finding a personal voice.

Moonlight isn’t all about sex – and it’s all the more queer for it

By Josh Lee

By not showing physical intimacy, Barry Jenkins allows sexuality to surface in his film in other ways.

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.