Amazon Scoops Up Barry Jenkins’ Adaptation of ‘The Underground Railroad’

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Colson Whitehead’s literary blockbuster is headed to Amazon TV

It’s official: The Underground Railroad adaptation-of-your-dreams is happening. Amazon has announced an agreement to develop a limited series based on Colson Whitehead’s bestselling National Book Award-winner, with none other than writer-director Barry Jenkins — of Moonlight fame — at the helm. According to The Los Angeles Times, the plan is for Jenkins to adapt the novel as a six- or seven-hour series made up of hour-long episodes. Jenkins called the novel a “landmark work” and said he expected that doing the project “the right way” would require considerable time and effort. So, maybe don’t hold your breath waiting for this one to pop up on your Fire TV.

But, once there is a script, expect The Underground Railroad to be fast-tracked. The project, which will be executive produced by Jenkins’ Strike Anywhere Films, Pastel, and Brad Pitt’s Plan B, is in script-to-series development. That means once the script has been green lit, production of all the episodes will begin, rather than having to wait on Amazon’s usual elongated calendar, with pilots made available for public viewing before any decision is made whether to proceed to series. (Fans of Amy Sherman-Palladino may be wondering why The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel didn’t get the same expedited treatment — just nine more months to wait for Episode 2…)

“Colson Whitehead’s book is a sweeping, character driven, boundary destroying epic,” Joe Lewis — Amazon’s head of Comedy, Drama, and VR — told the LA Times. “Having Barry bring it to life for Amazon Studios is thrilling. We couldn’t be more excited to see what they create.”

Whitehead shared in the enthusiasm on Twitter.

He also had a casting idea, in response to suggestions from our friends at Lit Hub.

The Underground Railroad isn’t the only literary adaptation Jenkins is working on. He also has a finished script adapting James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk for the big screen. Here’s hoping Amazon throws another pile of money at him and gets that project made on the double.

Colson Whitehead’s Subterranean Odyssey

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