“The Underground Railroad” is an American fantasy and historical drama that premiered on Amazon Prime Video last May. The limited series was created and directed by Oscar winner Barry Jenkins and received seven Primetime Emmy nominations. The series is based on the novel of the same name by Colson Whitehead and for executive producer, Adele Romanski, weaving fantasy with the horrific realities of American history was something they had to do carefully. Watch the full interview with the PGA Awards nominee above.
“We had early conversations with focus groups about the novel in a few different American cities,” Romanski tells Gold Derby in our “Meet the Experts” panel. “Specifically focusing the conversation around Black television audiences. And also white television audiences too, but starting a dialogue early in terms of what people felt was sacred to the text and needed to be respected in the translation and also, perhaps, where some of the imagery could be considered too sensational. That was a balance we were always trying to find throughout the journey of the show.”
“Colson said, in writing the novel, that he wouldn’t necessarily stick to the facts, but he would stick to the truth,” she continues. “I think that’s something that Barry preserved in his adaptation and how he approached the material. We too honored that in our approach. I think it’s all true, even if at times it’s not all factual.”
Romanski has worked primarily in film, but enjoyed the experience of diving into a limited series. “It’s an opportunity to go deeper into character,” she explains. “There, I’m sure, could have been a version that was the two-hour version of this book. We weren’t interested in that and we had to lose a lot even to get it to the 10 hours that it ultimately ran at. Just thinking about how much richer the lives of the characters were and the ability to go and spend time with, not even the day player characters, but even the background characters. Background characters in our show were given full, complete lives and dimensionality. Also, there’s resources there for us to tell stories in television that are starting to feel like they’re shrinking on the feature side. The opportunity to tell a certain kind of story at a certain scale feels a bit threatened as of late in the feature space.”
Romanski is a longtime collaborator of Jenkins’ and won an Oscar for co-producing the 2016 Best Picture “Moonlight.” “Barry and I have known each other since college,” she says. “That’s the beginning of the relationship. We made student films together. We went off our separate ways and started our careers and then eventually came back together to make ‘Moonlight.’ Now we have this company together. It’s a long history. I think that’s one of the things I’m most grateful for is the family aspect of how we work together and knowing that you sometimes struggle with family, but also you ultimately are family and you can never change that. There’s a really true love that exists.”
Watch the full interview above. “The Underground Railroad” is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
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