Last night, Tim and I finished watching the series, The Underground Railroad, based on Colson Whitehead’s book by the same name. I’m haunted by the characters depicted on the screen. I finished reading the book a couple of years ago now, so watching the written images come to life on the screen brought the characters back into my world in new and memorable ways. The book—right up there in company with Tony Morrison’s novels, Beloved, The Bluest Eye, and Song of Solomon—is amazing; the film series perhaps even more so. Written and performed in a magic realism style, the setting and characters become my own dream images, now making their day-time appearances in my thoughts and experiences, like a railroad running underground.
Whitehead’s depiction of life as a runaway slave and a woman being relentlessly chased, captured, running again, and being captured again, set in pre-Civil-War era in Southern and a Northern slave states is bloody, harrowing, and powerful. It is the journey—both underground and above-ground, inward and outward—of Cora, trying to forge her identity in a world meant to crush her identity as it has already crushed her mother. It is a story of the power of love—the okra seeds of love planted by her mother Mabel in young Cora—vs. the American imperative to build power upon the subjugation and even eradication of people’s heart and soul.
In today’s attempts for police reform and to bring critical race theory into our schools and corporate institutions, the questions of what kind of power will we choose and how do we bring truth into relationship with power are fundamental. This book and film series are needed. Prepare to be haunted as so many of our brothers and sisters have been for so very long.