Many of the more harrowing scenes in The Underground Railroad communicate familiar ideas. The role white jealousy plays in the drive to oppress Black people. The insidious way white culture convinces Black people to work toward their own oppression and the oppression of others. The many ways Black folks struggle to process and transcend trauma. The ways in which Black joy and peace can feel like the briefest of respites from a seemingly eternal struggle.
That's why, in addition to feeling sorrow and disgust in watching those horrors realized onscreen, I also felt anger. Not just over the unfairness of it all, but for the way Black people have been forced, generation after generation, to expose our wounds from systemic racism, just to prove to the wider—often white—world that it exists at all.
One reason why projects like The Underground Railroad feel so necessary, is because white America has tried so hard to deny, diminish or erase the shame of its racist past—refusing to acknowledge the connection between centuries of oppression and ongoing, current problems.
This version of The Underground Railroad reaches us at a time when we are most prepared for its message, but severely challenged by its delivery system. We are nearly one year past the date of George Floyd's death; 12 months in which video capturing the brutality of this Black man's slow murder beneath the knee of white policeman Derek Chauvin has been played and replayed on screens large and small.
Another wound, repeatedly ripped open. And even as footage of Floyd's death builds sympathy for the victims of systemic racism, it leaves many of us unable to stomach more images of Black lives snuffed out by prejudice and fear.
But Jenkins' The Underground Railroad demands we endure another look. Because when Cora finally reaches a community led by free Black people, the Indiana winery called the Valentine Farm, we viewers understand why the director brought us through hell to find this oasis. Our relief is as palpable as hers.