Director Barry Jenkins’s body of work to date demonstrates an exquisite devotion to the art of blackness as an aesthetic and cultural practice. On the occasion of Jenkins’ latest work—the television adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s 2016 book, The Underground Railroad—Film Quarterly contributor Michael Gillespie speaks with Jenkins about his craft, his process, and his acutely cinephilic attention to black visual and expressive culture. The series poses a stunningly exacting sense of the slave narrative coupled with an ambitious charting of antebellum nineteenth-century America, at once familiar and uncanny. As visual historiography, The Underground Railroad enacts an irreconcilable challenge to the writing of history and, furthermore, to the political and aesthetic capacities of televisual seriality. Jenkins’s conception of the series resonates as a fantastical and haunting restipulation of the idea of America—and a crucial reimagining of the rendering of blackness.

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