How dangerous was the Underground Railroad?
- In the states of the Deep South, it was considered extremely dangerous for both slaves and conductors to attempt to escape the plantations. While there were quite a few individuals, and some famous people at that, who took part, the Underground Railroad was also made up of groups that assisted the fugitive slaves in heading north.
What was bad about the Underground Railroad?
Slave states and slave hunters The Southern Underground Railroad went through slave states, lacking the abolitionist societies and the organized system of the north. People who spoke out against slavery were subject to mobs, physical assault, and being hanged.
Why was the Underground Railroad illegal?
After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act as part of the Compromise of 1850 the Underground Railroad was rerouted to Canada as its final destination. The Act made it illegal for a person to help a run away, and citizens were obliged under the law to help slave catchers arrest fugitive slaves.
Why did the Underground Railroad anger the South?
The Underground Railroad physically resisted the repressive laws that held slaves in bondage. By provoking fear and anger in the South, and prompting the enactment of harsh legislation that eroded the rights of white Americans, the Underground Railroad was a direct contributing cause of the Civil War.
Was the Underground Railroad a success or failure?
The Underground Railroad (1820 – 1861) The success of the Underground Railroad rested on the cooperation of former runaway slaves, free-born blacks, Native Americans, and white and black abolitionists who helped guide runaway slaves along the routes and provided their homes as safe havens.
What dangers did slaves face on the Underground Railroad?
If they were caught, any number of terrible things could happen to them. Many captured fugitive slaves were flogged, branded, jailed, sold back into slavery, or even killed. Not only did fugitive slaves have the fear of starvation and capture, but there were also threats presented by their surroundings.
Was there actually an underground railroad?
Nope! Despite its name, the Underground Railroad wasn’t a railroad in the way Amtrak or commuter rail is. It wasn’t even a real railroad. The Underground Railroad of history was simply a loose network of safe houses and top secret routes to states where slavery was banned.
What dangers did Harriet Tubman face?
When she was about 12 years old she reportedly refused to help an overseer punish another enslaved person, and she suffered a severe head injury when he threw an iron weight that accidentally struck her; she subsequently suffered seizures throughout her life.
How many slaves died trying to escape?
At least 2 million Africans –10 to 15 percent–died during the infamous “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic. Another 15 to 30 percent died during the march to or confinement along the coast. Altogether, for every 100 slaves who reached the New World, another 40 had died in Africa or during the Middle Passage.
How many runaway slaves were there?
Approximately 100,000 American slaves escaped to freedom.
Was the Underground Railroad civil disobedience?
However, in some places, especially after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Underground Railroad was deliberate and organized. Despite the illegality of their actions, people of all races, class and genders participated in this widespread form of civil disobedience.
What happened to the Underground Railroad after the Civil War?
The Underground Railroad ceased operations about 1863, during the Civil War. In reality, its work moved aboveground as part of the Union effort against the Confederacy.
How many slaves did Harriet Tubman save?
Fact: According to Tubman’s own words, and extensive documentation on her rescue missions, we know that she rescued about 70 people —family and friends—during approximately 13 trips to Maryland.
The Underground Railroad’s Troubling Allure
Alexander Hamilton was placed on the face of the $10 note in 1929, replacing Andrew Jackson, and this was the last time an image on a dollar was replaced. After Grover Cleveland retired on the $20 bill in 1928, Jackson was promoted to the position. It is prohibited by law for a live person to appear on a banknote, and the Secretary of the Treasury has complete control over the design of banknotes, including the portrait on the reverse. For the $1 note, the only portrait that must be printed is George Washington, which the secretary is legally bound to do.
Anthony, a pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement, and Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition across the Louisiana Territory, among others.
On Twitter, you can find N’dea Yancey-Bragg at the handle @NdeaYanceyBragg.
Eastern Illinois University : Teaching with Primary Sources
Alexander Hamilton was placed on the face of the $10 bill in 1929, replacing Andrew Jackson, which was the last time an image on a banknote was replaced. In 1928, Jackson was promoted to the $20 bill, taking over for Grover Cleveland. It is prohibited by law for a live person to appear on a banknote, and the Secretary of the Treasury has complete control over the design of banknotes, including the portrait on them. The only portrait that the Secretary of the Treasury is legally compelled to print on a banknote is George Washington, who appears on the one-dollar bill.
Anthony, a pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement, and Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition across the Louisiana Territory.
N’dea Yancey-Bragg may be found on Twitter at @NdeaYanceyBragg.
A Dangerous Path to Freedom
The last time a portrait on a banknote was replaced was in 1929, when Alexander Hamilton was put on the face of the $10 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson. Jackson was appointed to the $20 note in 1928, taking over for Grover Cleveland. By law, no live person may appear on a banknote, and the Secretary of the Treasury is granted responsibility over the design of banknotes, which includes the portrait. The only portrait that the Secretary of the Treasury is legally compelled to print on a bill is George Washington, who appears on the $1 note.
Anthony, a pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement, and Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition across the Louisiana Territory.
Contributors include Miriam Fauzia, Nicholas Wu, Ledyard King, Deborah Barfield Berry, Maureen Groppe, and USA TODAY. Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg
Train conductors on the Underground Railroad were free persons who provided assistance to escaped slaves moving via the Underground Railroad system. Runaway slaves were assisted by conductors, who provided them with safe transportation to and from train stations. They were able to accomplish this under the cover of darkness, with slave hunters on their tails. Many of these stations would be in the comfort of their own homes or places of work, which was convenient. They were in severe danger as a result of their actions in hiding fleeing slaves; nonetheless, they continued because they believed in a cause bigger than themselves, which was the liberation thousands of oppressed human beings.
- They represented a diverse range of ethnicities, vocations, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
- Due to the widespread belief that slaves were considered property, the freeing of slaves was perceived as a theft of slave owners’ personal belongings.
- Captain Jonathan Walker was apprehended off the coast of Florida while attempting to convey slaves from the United States to freedom in the Bahamas.
- With the following words from one of his songs, abolitionist poet John Whittier paid respect to Walker’s valiant actions: “Take a step forward with your muscular right hand, brave ploughman of the sea!
- She never lost sight of any of them during the journey.
- He went on to write a novel.
- John Parker is yet another former slave who escaped and returned to slave states in order to aid in the emancipation of others.
Rankin’s neighbor and fellow conductor, Reverend John Rankin, was a collaborator in the Underground Railroad project.
The Underground Railroad’s conductors were unquestionably anti-slavery, and they were not alone in their views.
Individuals such as William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur and Lewis Tappan founded the American Anti-Slavery Society, which marked the beginning of the abolitionist movement.
The group published an annual almanac that featured poetry, paintings, essays, and other abolitionist material.
Frederick Douglass was an escaped slave who rose to prominence as an abolitionist after escaping from slavery.
His other abolitionist publications included the Frederick Douglass Paper, which he produced in addition to delivering public addresses on themes that were important to abolitionists.
Anthony was another well-known abolitionist who advocated for the abolition of slavery via her speeches and writings.
For the most part, she based her novel on the adventures of escaped slave Josiah Henson.
Efforts of Abolitionists Telling Their Story:Fugitive Slave Narratives
Henry Bibb was born into slavery in Kentucky in the year 1815, and he was the son of a slave owner. After several failed efforts to emancipate himself from slavery, he maintained the strength and persistence to continue his struggle for freedom despite being captured and imprisoned numerous times. His determination paid off when he was able to successfully escape to the northern states and then on to Canada with the assistance of the Underground Railroad, which had been highly anticipated. The following is an excerpt from his tale, in which he detailed one of his numerous escapes and the difficulties he faced as a result of his efforts.
- I began making preparations for the potentially lethal experiment of breading the shackles that tied me as a slave as soon as the clock struck twelve.
- On the twenty-fifth of December, 1837, the long-awaited day had finally arrived when I would put into effect my previous determination, which was to flee for Liberty or accept death as a slave, as I had previously stated.
- It took every ounce of moral strength I have to keep my emotions under control as I said goodbye to my small family.
- Despite the fact that every incentive was extended to me in order to flee if I want to be free, and the call of liberty was booming in my own spirit, ‘Be free, oh, man!
- I was up against a slew of hurdles that had gathered around my mind, attempting to bind my wounded soul, which was still imprisoned in the dark prison of mental degeneration.
- Furthermore, the danger of being killed or arrested and deported to the far South, where I would be forced to spend the rest of my days in hopeless bondage on a cotton or sugar plantation, all conspired to discourage me.
- The moment has come for me to follow through on my commitment.
- This marked the beginning of the construction of what was known as the underground rail route to Canada.
For nearly forty-eight hours, I pushed myself to complete my journey without food or rest, battling against external difficulties that no one who has never experienced them can comprehend: “not knowing when I might be captured while traveling among strangers, through cold and fear, braving the north winds while wearing only a thin layer of clothing, pelted by snow storms through the dark hours of the night, and not a single house in which I could enter to protect me from the storm.” This is merely one of several accounts penned by runaway slaves who were on the run from their masters.
Sojourner Truth was another former slave who became well-known for her work to bring slavery to an end.
Green and many others, including Josiah Henson, authored autobiographies in which they described their own personal experiences.
Perhaps a large number of escaped slaves opted to write down their experiences in order to assist people better comprehend their struggles and tribulations; or perhaps they did so in order to help folks learn from the mistakes of the past in order to create a better future for themselves.
‘Their stories need to be told’: the true story behind The Underground Railroad
Don’t be deceived by the railway carriage’s appearance. A railroad museum may be situated within one, however the content of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum has nothing to do with railroads. Its original origins may be traced across the street to the Pamlico River, which was formerly utilized as a route of escape by enslaved African Americans seeking freedom in the 19th century. The museum’s cofounder and executive director, Leesa Jones, explains that after reading a slew of documents and old slave ads from Washington newspapers that would say things like, “My slave has escaped, they’re going to try to get to Washington in order to board a ship to get to their freedom,” they realized that they wanted to tell an accurate story about how freedom seekers left from the Washington waterfront.
- Jones points out that the first misconception many have about the underground railroad is that it was a system of subterranean trains, tunnels, and platforms that branched out like the London Underground or the New York subway.
- There actually existed a network of hidden routes and safe homes that thousands of enslaved persons used to travel from the southern United States to the free states and Canada during the early and mid-19th centuries.
- The Underground Railroad, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Colson Whitehead published in 2016, examined the divide between the real and the metaphorical by reimagining genuine trains booming beneath the soil.
- However, in addition to depicting cotton fields, plantations, and forests, it is as effective in depicting subterranean steam trains that provide a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.
- I don’t want a blue screen of death.
- It had everything to do with the time, the place, and the fact that they were chatting in code.
- For example, a depot may have been anything other than a railroad station; it could have been a graveyard, a river, a barn, or a location in the woods.
As a result, individuals were free to talk about it, and those who overheard the conversation may have assumed they were talking about a railroad line or a train station, which they were not talking about.
Tracks and trains aren’t the only thing that people have misconceptions about.
Political influence and legal help were provided by African-Americans with access to education and resources, such as Robert Purvis and William Whipper, both of whom were from Philadelphia.
Photograph courtesy of MPI/Getty Images “In many of the narratives that you read, the abolitionists appear to be the heroes, and, without taking anything away from their noble deeds, what the freedom seekers accomplished is underestimated,” Jones adds.
Their situation was not that of helpless slaves on a plantation, waiting for the white abolitionists to arrive and take them away.
Thinking about the freedom seekers and the stories they told after achieving freedom, it becomes clear who the true hero of the story was very quickly.
A tear fell from Jones’s eye during the film Harriet, which was released in 2019 and starred Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman, one of the most well-known conductors of the subterranean railroad.
While she is not a fan of Whitehead’s use of artistic license, she is looking forward to watching the Amazon version and participating in the discussion that it will elicit.
According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution, the most organized networks were in Pennsylvania and New York, with many of them centered on local churches.
Free Black people who liberated enslaved individuals from plantations in Maryland and Virginia ran an underground railroad station near the US Capitol in Washington, which was managed by free Black people.
‘One has to pay particular attention to the Black communities in the northern hemisphere, since they are the foot troops of this movement,’ he explains.
Image courtesy of Kyle Kaplan/Amazon Studios It was they who ensured that people were securely hidden, who resisted attempts to apprehend fugitives, who showed up at court hearings, who spent cold nights standing outside these hearings to ensure that people were not sent away before the hearing was completed.” Understanding the underground railroad requires an understanding of the people who worked on the network.
We must also remember those whites, notably attorneys, who took the lead in defending these fugitive slaves in the courtrooms of the northern states.
The extent of the brutality and persecution, as well as the deliberate efforts to return freedom seekers to servitude, are still not completely appreciated by the international community.
It was a brave move.
These individuals are fleeing their homes, their families, and the locations that they are familiar with in an attempt to gain their freedom. It dawned on me that one must grasp their notion of freedom via their actions in order for freedom to become both a goal and an action.”
- A new episode of Amazon Prime’s The Underground Railroad is now available.
Review: ‘Underground Railroad’ Lays Bare Horrors of Slavery and Its Toxic Legacy (Published 2016)
When Colson Whitehead takes the Underground Railroad (the loosely interlocking network of black and white activists who helped slaves escape to freedom in the decades before the Civil War) and turns it into a metaphor for an actual train that transports fugitives northward, it becomes one of the most dynamic novels of the year. As a result, the novel is a powerful, even hallucinogenic experience that leaves the reader with a dismal awareness of the horrible human consequences of slavery. This novel is reminiscent of the chilling, matter-of-fact power of the slave narratives collected by the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s, as well as echoes of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” and Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” as well as brush strokes borrowed from Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, and Jonathan Swift.
The novel follows the story of Cora, a teenage slave who escapes the Georgia plantation where she was born, risking everything in her search of freedom, just as her mother Mabel had done years earlier.
Cora must travel from Georgia to South Carolina to North Carolina to Tennessee to Indiana, evading not only Ridgeway but also other bounty hunters, informers, and lynch mobs — with assistance, along the way, from a few dedicated “railroad” workers, both black and white, who are willing to put their lives on the line to save hers.
- The novel’s literalization of the Underground Railroad is not the only instance of a dreamy quality in it.
- These surreal elements give the narrative a mythic dimension that gives “The Underground Railroad” more magic and depth of field.
- Whitehead was able to develop an elastic voice that can accommodate both brute realism and fablelike allegory, as well as the plainspoken and the poetic — a voice that allows him to convey the historical horrors of slavery with raw, shocking power.
- The harshness of life on the plantation is shown in vivid detail, including Cora’s gang-rape and whippings (which are sometimes followed by a washing in pepper water to increase the intensity of the suffering) that are commonplace.
- Human and animal bodies are burnt on pyres, both living and dead.
- Despite the threat of such heinous torture, Cora is unafraid to flee.
Whitehead says that in North Carolina, slave patrollers “did not require a justification to halt a person aside from their race or national origin.” One senator warns an enraged throng that their “Southern heritage lay unprotected and threatened” because of the “colored miscreants” who lurked in the shadows, threatening “to defile the residents’ wives and daughters.” Such paragraphs ring true today, given the police shootings of unarmed black men and boys, the stop-and-frisk practices that disproportionately target minorities, and the anti-immigrant rhetoric employed by politicians to inflame prejudice and fear among the public.
- He is under no obligation to do so.
- “It hasn’t even passed yet.” Mr.
- Meanwhile, he commemorates the hunger for freedom that has propelled generation after generation to continue in the pursuit of justice – despite threats and intimidation, despite reversals and attempts to turn the clock back.
As a result of his efforts, we now have a better grasp of both the American history and the American present. Sunday, August 7 will see the publication of an extract from “The Underground Railroad” in a special broadsheet section of the newspaper; there will be no internet edition.
Review: Barry Jenkins’ ‘The Underground Railroad’ adaptation is overwhelming and triumphant
- According to a conductor in Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s famous 2016 novel “The Underground Railroad,” taking the train will reveal “the actual face of America,” according to the director of the film “Moonlight.” The new Amazon miniseries(streaming Friday, 12 out of four episodes) undoubtedly tries to accomplish this, but through a massive epic of anguish and trauma, as well as humanization and the appearance of intermittent rays of light. This novel’s central conceit is that the metaphorical Underground Railroad in the antebellum South – a historical network of routes and safe houses used by enslaved African Americans to escape to the Northern United States or Canada during slavery – was actually an actual railroad with trains, conductors, and stations. Despite its massive size, it is a complicated epic that defies sensible adaptation just as much as it attracts Hollywood’s attention due to its widespread popularity and critical praise. Jenkins is one of the few filmmakers and producers who could give it right, and his 10-episode television series is a dark, beautiful, somewhat imperfect, but ultimately outstanding adaptation of the novel and short story. There are moments when it is difficult to watch, but it is always well worth your time. The ‘fraught’ representation of slavery in Amazon Studios’ latest film, “Underground Railroad,” is discussed in this interview with actor Barry Jenkins. It follows Cora (Thuso Mbedu), an enslaved lady on a Georgia plantation who is wounded as a result of her mother’s departure when she was ten years old, leaving Cora feeling cursed and unwanted. When conditions on the estate deteriorate, handsome and well-educated slave Caesar (Aaron Pierre) persuades Cora to go with him to the underground railroad system known as the Underground Railroad. The price of admittance serves as testimony for its ledger, which serves as a chronicle of brutality and suffering. Cora and Caesar board a train, yet their voyage is far from the straightforward, straightforward travel to a free Northern state that one might expect from such a journey. More: Colson Whitehead discusses his feelings of being’very dejected’ following the release of ‘Nickel Boys,’ and the need of self-care. It is Cora’s escape that transforms into her own epic voyage across the country that brings her to the fanciful parts of Whitehead’s ahistorical America, a journey that she calls “the Odyssey.” It seems like every episode takes place somewhere fresh with a different mix of optimism and terror. ‘Bettering the Lives of Former Slaves’ is a fictional story about a South Carolina town that apparently “betters” the lives of former slaves but is actually a thinly disguised laboratory for eugenics and scientific research on African-Americans. On the one hand, there’s the abolitionist in North Carolina who conceals Cora in his attic, attempting to save her while also imprisoning her in an inhumane form of captivity. On the other hand, there’s the woman in New York who is forced to marry a man she doesn’t love. In the course of her trip, Cora is chased by the obsessive slave catcher Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton), who has taken his failure to recapture her mother as an insult to his own dignity and honor. The series spends far more time on Ridgeway than the viewer may think, with an entire episode devoted to his genesis story, to name a few highlights. However, the novel avoids portraying Ridgeway as a stereotypical one-dimensional villain, just as it avoids portraying Cora as a stereotypical one-dimensional heroine. Ridgeway isn’t simply nasty
- He chooses to devote his life to the protection of white supremacy because it gives him a sense of accomplishment. Cora, on the other hand, has little control over her destiny and possesses none of the attributes of a Harriet Tubman-stylesuperhero or other guaranteed protagonists of these sorts of novels. She is only striving to live, flailing and panicking as the odds build against her every step of the way. Jenkins directs all 10 hour-plus episodes with a distinct vision and style that distinguishes them from one another. In his universe, shadows and shades of brown and gray are used to create depth and texture, but sometimes intentionally bright colors are used to provide glimmers of color in a generally monotonous terrain. The music is haunting and sad, fusing natural sounds such as the clicking of cicadas with sorrowful strings to create a haunting and gloomy atmosphere. The show’s end credits contain a contemporary melody, a swift and abrupt transition from the show’s universe into the real world, and a juxtaposition of tones that continues to startle even after several episodes. Mbedu is the series’ most impressive performer, imbuing Cora with a strong sense of compassion and empathy in every scene, including those in which she does not speak. Edgerton is a compelling and persuasive counterpoint to her erratic behavior. A youthful sidekick, former slave Homer (Chase W. Dillon), who is a dazzling scene stealer, assists him in his mission. Additionally, the series’ second half features a great, soulful performance by William Jackson Harper (“The Good Place”), who portrays Royal, a freeborn Black man who develops a romantic interest in Cora. “Underground” may be overpowering, in part because of the show’s design and in part because of the streaming series’ predilection for lethargic pacing– even while the majority of the episodes are crisp, a few drag. However, broadcasting all ten episodes of the expansive plot at the same time is a miscalculation. While Jenkins is best known as a film director, he is also known as a master of episodic storytelling: Each part is a whole tale that needs to be given the time and space to develop on its own merits. There should be no temptation to binge watch since it is too simple to be overpowered by the anguish inside each hour and too tempting to quit up after only a few episodes. However, giving up on “Underground” because it might be difficult to watch is a tragedy in and of itself. An epic full of catharsis and horror culminates in a conclusion that is well worthwhile of the journey. Few stories can accomplish this level of great, successful story — and even fewer stories about slavery can achieve this level of grand, successful narrative. Jenkins, like Whitehead before him, was able to strike the appropriate tone in order to transcend the “slavery” genre and proceed into something considerably more profound. More: TV launch dates for shows such as ‘Loki’ and ‘Ted Lasso’ in 2021: Your favorite shows, new obsessions, and everything in between
Pathways to Freedom
The Underground Railroad is a towering series about the ways slavery still infects America
It is unavoidably difficult for a white critic such as me to examine a work of art that is explicitly about the Black experience in America. There is a danger of coming across as condescending at best and appropriative at worst when attempting to equate the pain, trauma, and terror that often falls on Black Americans to the personal sorrows that white viewers may experience in their everyday lives, as is the case with this film. It is conceivable and even desirable for white audiences to discover personal connection in the lives of protagonists in films like as Do the Right Thing or12 Years a Slave because great art weaves universal stories out of unique realities.
- Despite the fact that I have a terrible background, I do not live under the same crushing weight of centuries of slavery and institutional racism as so many others have.
- Both Do the Right Thing and 12 Years a Slave are excellent films, but both urge us to look unflinchingly at the horrendous ways in which America abuses its Black residents.
- As a result, I’d want to proceed with caution when evaluating The Underground Railroad, a 10-episode television version of Colson Whitehead’s National Book Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name.
- In no way should it be lauded as a narrative in which anybody can identify with the characters.
- Things about my own life and personal anguish were brought to the surface by The Underground Railroad, but I never lost sight of the fact that, while I could identify with portions of this tale, it was not my own.
Jenkins acknowledges that this is a narrative about humanity, and he allows you the opportunity to discover yourself in it without detracting from the story’s central theme – even if you don’t like what you see.
For an adaptation of a great novel by an acclaimed filmmaker,The Underground Railroadsure acts like a TV show. Good.
Ridgeway, played by Joel Edgerton, is a slave catcher who is relentlessly on Cora’s trail, until he is killed by her. Atsushi Nishijima/Amazon Studios is the photographer. When a brilliant filmmaker creates a television program, he or she is all too frequently content to merely extend their usual storytelling approach across a longer period of time than they would otherwise. A reason why Drivedirector Nicolas Winding Refn’s 10-episode Amazon seriesToo Old to Die Youngdidn’t make much of a splash when it premiered in the summer of 2019, despite the fact that it was directed by one of the most exciting young directors working today: The whole thing moved at the speed of molasses.
- This difficulty is mostly eliminated because to the Underground Railroad.
- Cora goes from place to place via an actual subterranean railroad — complete with train and everything — in an attempt to determine exactly what is wrong with each new locale she encounters.
- It’s not like Whitehead sits you down and says, “The South Carolina portion is all about the promise and final withering away of Reconstruction,” and the South Carolina chapter (the second episode of the series) is about much more than that.
- Whitehead’s concept is tied together by the following: In the series, Cora is being relentlessly chased by a slave catcher named Ridgeway (played by Joel Edgerton), who is determined to pull her back into slavery despite the fact that she is sort of going forward in time.
It is always possible for the country’s racist past to be linked to its racist present, and Whitehead’s use of Ridgeway is a far more compelling exploration of this idea than any big, heartbreaking speech Cora could give on the subject (although several of the series’ characters deliver some incredible speeches).
Each episode of the series may reasonably easily be read as a stand-alone story, with casual viewers having just the most rudimentary comprehension of the main characters and their position at the time of viewing.
They were also included in the novel, but Jenkins and his colleagues have made them a significant part of the overall experience by focusing on them as palate cleansers.
For example, the camera may zoom in for a God’s-eye view of a burning hamlet, or an episode might progress mostly without speaking until it reaches a long, gloriously talky sequence near the conclusion.
However, binge-watching The Underground Railroadwould run the risk of reducing it to the level of a pulp thriller — typically, the best shows to watch in a marathon have clearly defined episodic stories that connect up into longer, serialized stories — but binge-watching this series would run the risk of reducing it to the level of a pulp thriller.
- For comparison, Steve McQueen’s 2020 anthology series Small Axe is similar in that it introduces new people in each episode, although The Underground Railroad does not.
- The first episode has some graphic depictions of slavery, but it picks and selects which pictures to include.
- Despite making it plain that no one should ever see what is going to be seen, the sequence’s build helps the spectator to mentally prepare themselves for what they’re about to witness.
- When these tropes are in the hands of others, they might feel stale.
- The slave, a guy we’ve scarcely known up to this point, keeps his humanity at the same time as people who aren’t especially disturbed by what’s going on retain their humanity in a different sense, thanks to the efforts of the Master.
- The sound design for The Underground Railroad is likewise deserving of particular mention.
- For example, when we hear a door swinging on its rusted hinges or a blacksmith pounding away in his shop, we hear that sound a little louder in the soundtrack than we would if we were in the same setting in real life.
While Cora is standing in an apparently deserted building, the sound of a chain jangling somewhere in the background quietly disturbs her, recalling the shackles that were placed on slaves in the first episode.
TheUnderground Railroadtells a universal story about moving through PTSD — but it is still a very specific version of PTSD
Cora finds herself in several really dark situations, both physically and metaphorically. Image courtesy of Kyle Kaplan/Amazon Studios In contemplating The Underground Railroad’s frequent use of metallic sounds, I began to get why I found the series so compelling, for reasons other than its tale and storytelling. Cora’s journey struck a chord with me because it mirrored my own recent experiences of attempting to fight my identity away from a history that was threatening to swallow it whole. My whole adult existence has felt like a process of peeling back layers of rotten, awful stuff, some of which was placed upon me at my conception.
- However, this is where the conundrum I described at the outset of this review comes into effect.
- After all, we’ve all experienced discomfort at some time in our lives, right?
- (At least, that’s how this type of critical argument works.) It is also feasible to go in the other direction.
- For example, John Singleton’s 1991 classicBoyz n the Hood is an incredibly well-made coming-of-age drama set in the South Central Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyz n the Hood.
- Singleton had no control over how Boyz n the Hood would be accepted into mainstream culture once it had begun to spread.
- In this way, watching the correct movies might be seen as a form of gradual self-vindication: I am vicariously feeling the sorrow of others, and that makes me a decent person.
Take note of how frequently he places the process of perceiving brutalities, both vast and commonplace, at the core of his argument: A scenario in which a white audience watches a whipping, for example, lingers on both the white audience and the Black audience for such flogging, watching how the white spectators treat the show as if it were nothing more than window decorating for an afternoon picnic.
The unusual temporal dilation of Whitehead’s work also serves to keep the series from having a distancing impact on the reader.
Upon leaving the plantation, Cora travels through a number of other worlds, many of which bear unnerving resemblances to the current day in ways that disturb viewers who would be inclined to dismiss these stories as being set in the distant past.
Despite our numerous and obvious differences, I recognized myself in Cora.
I, too, wish to let go of my past, but I’ve found it to be more difficult than I had anticipated.
That is an excellent forecast.
Then, just when it seems like you’ve become comfortable with your reading of The Underground Railroad—or with any reading, for that matter—Jenkins will clip in pictures of the various Black characters from throughout the series, each of whom is looking gravely into the camera.
We identify with the characters in the stories we read or watch.
However, as you are watching what happens to these individuals, they are gazing straight back at you, via the camera, across the chasms of time that separate you from them.
And what do they notice when they take a glance behind them? The Underground Railroadwill premiere on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, May 14th. It is divided into ten episodes with running times ranging from 20 minutes to 77 minutes. Yes, this is true. Believe me when I say that it works.