Barry Jenkins Describes How The 'Make America Great Again' Slogan Affected Him When Making ‘The Underground Railroad’
- Category: Interviews
- Published: Saturday, 15 May 2021 14:25
- Written by Lupe R Haas
The Amazon Prime series Them sparked a conversation on Black Twitter about the overabundance of Black trauma seen in the Little Marvin and Lena Waithe series. Some found it too triggering. Barry Jenkins’ The Underground Railroad also revisits the trauma of slavery (also streaming on Amazon Prime), but the MOONLIGHT and IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK director doesn’t believe creators should shy away from telling the truth about America’s ugly history especially after hearing four years of the dog whistle slogan,“Make America Great Again.”
Academy Award® winner Barry Jenkins adapts the Pulitzer Prize winning novel "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead as an Amazon Prime series. The Underground Railroad follows Cora’s (Thuso Mbedu) journey in escaping the brutality of slavery in the antebellum South via an actual underground railroad run by conductors and engineers. Cora is pursued by Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton), a bounty hunter obsessed with tracking her down and returning her to the plantation.
The first episode is a brutal one to watch because of the horrors and brutal acts of violence under these cruel slave owners. After Black Twitter took issue with the violence against Black Americans in Them, CineMovie asked Jenkins if he worries that the same complaints may apply to his Amazon Prime series?
“I think it’s important to acknowledge these things happened. Yet not force the audience to revel in them,” says the director. “That’s where I think we draw the line. For the last four years, I’ve lived in a country where I try to create work and create art while hearing the slogan “Make America Great Again” non-stop. ‘Make America Great Again.’ ‘Make America Great Again.’ To me when I hear that, it shows there’s a vacuum and a cavity in what America once was and continues to be in some respects. Here’s the thing, the crux of that conversation - Are we to not acknowledge our ancestors because we can’t speak to the condition that they lived under? Then we are also not acknowledging them at all.”
Actress Thuso Mbedu who plays Cora in the series agrees with Jenkins.
“I personally felt with Underground, in creating it was like Barry said acknowledging what actually happened without romanticizing the trauma. Without romanticizing the brutality to gain some sort of reaction from the audience.”
Jenkins also told CineMovie he was mindful of the triggering nature of the show so he sought to bring balance. He says the toughest part to get through is the first episode, but the other nine episodes focus more on Cora’s journey to freedom, and the good and bad people she encounters along the way.
The Underground Railroad is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.