Barry Jenkins breaks down how the underground railroad music connects black people with their ancestors
Warning: This post contains spoilers from The Underground Railroad.
Just like both of Barry Jenkins’ films, Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, The composer Nicholas Britell provided the stirring and emotionally gripping instruments for the new limited series The Underground Railroad from the Oscar winner, which is now streamed on Amazon Prime.
The strings that are played in episode 8 after Cora (TVLines performer of the week Thuso Mbedu) awaken from a dream in which she can finally say goodbye to her murdered soul mate Caesar (Krypton’s Aaron Pierre). But when the episode ends after a desperate and eager Cora discovers that Royal (William Jackson Harper of The Good Place) went on a mission without saying goodbye, Groove Theory’s 1995 hit “Hey U” does the trick notes how Cora feels.
“I thought, ‘Oh, how was that? [Groove Theory’s Amel Larrieux] Sing in 1995 to the sorrow of that black woman in 1855? “Jenkins is wondering. “Spiritually we are connected as a continuum, and our ancestors – who even lived under the condition of American slavery – undoubtedly had longings and longings. This is one of the ways we connect.
“There’s a legacy from Cora to Amel Larrieux,” adds Jenkins. “It’s a straight line. And then we started tracking it. In each episode, we wanted to find the appropriate way to draw and infer that line. “
Jenkins, who personally selected all of the end credit songs, also witnessed the symbiosis between generations in real life. “When we were editing the show, all these protests were in the streets because George Floyd was killed,” the writer recalls. “And people took music from our last movie, If Beale Street Could Talk, and used it to underline some of the speeches people made on some marches. And I thought, ‘This is interesting. We made this historic film and people are using it to highlight this very timely event. ‘“
Other notable end-credit songs on Underground Railroad include The Pharcyde’s “Runnin” When Cora Escape Ridgeway’s (Joel Edgerton) Grip in South Carolina in Episode 2. And Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” at the end of Episode 9, when Ridgeway meets his inevitable fate at Cora’s hand.
“Sometimes we create a distance between ourselves and our ancestors, and I don’t think we should,” said Jenkins Tage. “That was the most important thing in adapting the book. There are times when we allow actors, whether leading or background actors, to look directly at the audience.
“And I hope the audience sees them, but in a way they see us too,” he concludes. “This is the kind of communication channel that we’ve been trying to open up. And if it felt haunting, that’s good. We must continually recognize and honor these people. “