Amazon has put in development The Underground Railroad with a script-to-series commitment. The one-hour original limited drama, a new take on the story of the underground railroad, hails from Oscar-winning Moonlight writer-director Barry Jenkins and producers Plan B and Adele Romanski.
The project, which was taken to the marketplace in the fall when Moonlight was just starting to gain awards momentum that culminated in winning three Academy Awards including Best Picture, is based on Colson Whitehead’s bestselling novel The Underground Railroad. The book, published in August by Doubleday, is a 2016 National Book Award winner and Oprah Book Club pick. It has drawn critical praise for its imaginative blend of history and magical fable – moving beyond the boundaries of realism in its depiction of a mythical underground train that transports slaves across an alternate America.
The Underground Railroad chronicles young Cora’s journey as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. After escaping her Georgia plantation for the rumored Underground Railroad, Cora discovers no mere metaphor, but an actual railroad full of engineers and conductors, and a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil.
“Going back to The Intuitionist, Colson’s writing has always defied convention, and The Underground Railroad is no different,” said Jenkins. “It’s a groundbreaking work that pays respect to our nation’s history while using the form to explore it in a thoughtful and original way. Preserving the sweep and grandeur of a story like this requires bold, innovative thinking and in Amazon we’ve found a partner whose reverence for storytelling and freeness of form is wholly in line with our vision.”
Amazon has found success with another alternate history drama series, The Man In The High Castle.
“Colson Whitehead’s book is a sweeping, character-driven, boundary-destroying epic,” said Joe Lewis, Head of Comedy, Drama and VR, Amazon Studios. “Having Barry bring it to life for Amazon Studios is thrilling.”
Underground railroad — the 19th century network of secret routes and safe houses used by slaves to flee the South — is the subject of WGN America’s popular drama series Underground, produced by Akiva Goldsman and John Legend. Additionally, NBC had put in development Freedom Run, an eight-hour miniseries and stage musical set against the background of the underground railroad with Stevie Wonder executive producing.
Moonlight, which debuted at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals to great reviews, became one of the standouts of awards season, landing eight Oscar nominations and winning three — Best Picture, for Pastel’s Romanski and Plan B’s Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner; Best Adapted Screenplay, for Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney; and Best Supporting Actor, for Mahershala Ali.
Pastel, founded by Jenkins, Romanski and Sara Murphy as a home for artists to create provocative, boundary-pushing work in film, television and beyond, is executive producing The Underground Railroad with Brad Pitt’s Plan B.
Plan B is repped by CAA and Brillstein Entertainment Partners. Jenkins is repped by Silent R Management, CAA and attorney Jamie Feldman. Whitehead is repped by Nicole Aragi at Aragi Inc. and Geoffrey Sanford and Brooke Ehrlich at The Sanford Ehrlich Company.