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Criticism | ‘The Underground Railroad’ is a relentless and arduous portrayal of slavery in the United States



Barry Jenkins rose to prominence in the contemporary audiovisual scene in the middle of the last decade, when he presented on screen the beautiful adaptation of “Moonlight: Under the Moonlight”, a film which won three statuettes at the Oscars. In addition to proficient production, Jenkins was in charge of both directing and scripting to highlight several critically important talking points including sexual orientation, homophobia, racism and social inequalities – and of course he wouldn’t stop there: soon after, he would be responsible for the famous ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’, taking us back to the segregated United States of the 1970s, to continue his journey. with the new “ The Underground Railroad: The Paths to Freedom ”.

This time, the director would go even further back in time, to the 19th century, presenting a racist society that subdued the Afro-descendant community in order to reaffirm white supremacy – especially as the plot takes place in the south of the North. . American territory. The adaptation, based on the Pulitzer-winning novel by Colson Whitehead, features an alternate version of what really happened and highlights two main characters, Cora (played with great skill by Emmy nominee Thuso Mbedu ) and Caesar (Aaron Peter). Both are slaves and live imprisoned on a cotton plantation, bombarded with appalling comments and harsh punishments from their owners – that is, until the two men decide to embark on a path underground iron and escape in search of new life.

Of course, summing up such a majestic work is no easy task – and it doesn’t live up to what it represents. In a way, the narrative presented by Jenkins and his knowledgeable creative team isn’t new to any of us, and even harbors similarities to Steve McQueen’s impeccable ’12 Years of Slavery ‘, or even the classic’ Amistad ‘, by Steven Spielberg. However, it is remarkable how this story is told and how the cruelty suffered by black people turns into poignant and thoughtful poetry, in addition to breathtaking artistic forays and interpretations that should deserve some honors during awards season.

Each element is crafted with the utmost care, which is why the sequences function as almost classic pictorial constructions, blending two of the essential arts of the planet to create something different from what we are used to. It is in this context that James Laxton, appropriating photography, is not satisfied with the formulas of historical dramas, but with visual synesthesia which brings new information to the audience chapter by chapter – and, by extending the ramifications of the scenario. , it’s remarkable how The Atmosphere gradually transmutes itself, betting on a grim lack of perspective, as happens in episodes set in Tennessee, or on a tiny hope that soon fades away, like when Cora and Caesar arrive in South Carolina.

The performances are simply visceral and brutal. Mbedu steals the show by playing Cora and showing the multiple wounds that have accompanied her since she was little – the abandonment of her mother, the sadism of her owners, and the mists of an uncertain future. Not surprisingly, Jenkins promotes a circus movement of ups and downs, inviting us on a roller coaster ride that leaves nothing out and doesn’t feel useless and forced; on the contrary, we see how the director has respect for the characters and cultivates the soil so that the flowers (or the weeds) grow in the immensity. So, Cora is unprotected, but is greeted in different ways by those who want her or just want to take advantage of a damnable condition – for example, when she crosses paths with fanatic Ethel Wells (Lily Rabe). or Miss’s distorted mentality. Lucy (Megan Boone).

Mbedu also brings splendid chemistry to life alongside Pierre, but especially with Joel Edgerton, admirable as slave hunter Arnold Ridgeway. Played by Fred Hechinger in his latest version, Ridgeway is a complex character who may have found some injustice in the world with the untimely death of his mother and decided to ally with white Georgia conservatives to punish blacks no. free and clearly indicate who is in charge of the region. The dialogues exchanged between the two, which are not limited to verbiage or the lack of it, work like agonizing beards that bring us a little more truth about what is on offer in the series – not to mention that the duo are in charge of bring dynamism and drama to the slow pace of work.

“The Underground Railroad” quickly rose to the level of one of the best, if not the best series of the year. The lush and dense portrayal of the United States in one of its most deplorable periods in its history is elaborated in detail, letting the production take a voice of its own instead of daring to shock with questionable perversity.

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