Amazon Enlists ‘Moonlight’ Director to Adapt Bestseller ‘Underground Railroad’
The e-commerce giant announced on Monday that its Amazon Studios unit has acquired the adaptation rights to The Underground Railroad, author Colson Whitehead’s best-selling historical fiction novel. Oscar-winning Moonlight director and co-writer Barry Jenkins is set to tackle the adaptation as a limited series for Amazon. The streaming series will feature a currently undetermined number of hourlong episodes. Amazon did not specify a release date for the project.
Jenkins’ production company, Pastel, along with actor Brad Pitt’s Plan B Productions, will executive produce the Amazon series after doing the same for Moonlight. The 2016 movie—about a young, gay black man growing up in Miami—won three Oscars last month, including for Best Picture, and has grossed more than $27 million at the domestic box office.
The Underground Railroad represents a fairly high-profile follow-up to Moonlight for Jenkins, who is only 37. Whitehead’s novel won the 2016 National Book Award for fiction and topped The New York Times‘ bestseller list. Amazon also named the novel its “Best Book” of 2016. The book follows Cora, a runaway slave during the antebellum era, as she makes her way north in search of freedom. Along the way, she receives help from agents of the Underground Railroad, though Whitehead’s version adds a fantastical twist, complete with actual subterranean trains and conductors.
Jenkins called Whitehead’s novel “a groundbreaking work” in a statement. “Preserving the sweep and grandeur of a story like this requires bold, innovative thinking and in Amazon we’ve found a partner whose reverence for storytelling and freeness of form is wholly in line with our vision,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins is no stranger to working with streaming media. The director also recently directed an episode of Netflix’s original series Dear White People, which premieres next month.
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Meanwhile, Amazon has made a habit of signing up high-profile auteurs to helm the streaming platform’s growing stable of original films and TV series. Last fall, the company reportedly shelled out $70 million to land Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s next series. Amazon has also worked with big names such as Woody Allen (Crisis in Six Scenes) and David E. Kelley (Goliath) on streaming series, while the company also acquired David O. Russell’s upcoming mafia drama starring Julianne Moore and Robert De Niro.
Amazon, which recently won its first-ever Academy Award for the Kenneth Lonergan drama Manchester by the Sea, also announced this month that it will be the exclusive subscription streaming home of Moonlight, starting in May, after expanding its content agreement with independent film studio A24.