As Barry Jenkins prepares to release his television debut as showrunner, an adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s novel “The Underground Railroad,” it would be an understatement to say TV audiences are eagerly awaiting the project. In preparation of the series premiere on Amazon Prime Video this Friday, Jenkins has released a non-narrative short made in parallel while shooting “The Underground Railroad.” As Jenkins explains in his introduction to the 52-minute project, officially titled “The Gaze,” the short is not meant to be viewed as an episode of the series but as a related project inspired by it.
Here is an excerpt from Jenkins’ statement on the film:
“In my years of doing interviews and roundtables and Q&A’s for the various films we’ve made, there is one question that recurs. No matter the length of the piece or the tone of the room, eventually, inevitably, I am asked about the white gaze. It wasn’t until a very particular interview regards The Underground Railroad that the blindspot inherent in that questioning became clear to me: never, in all my years of working or questioning, had I been set upon about the Black gaze; or the gaze distilled.
I don’t remember when we began making the piece you see here. Which is not and should not be considered an episode of ‘The Underground Railroad.’ It exists apart from that, outside it. Early in production, there was a moment where I looked across the set and what I saw settled me: our background actors, in working with folks like Ms. Wendy and Mr. and Mrs. King – styled and dressed and made up by Caroline, by Lawrence and Donnie – I looked across the set and realized I was looking at my ancestors, a group of people whose images have been largely lost to the historical record. Without thinking, we paused production on the ‘The Underground Railroad’ and instead harnessed our tools to capture portraits of… them.”
Jenkins goes on to explain that he was inspired by the celebrated painter Kerry James Marshall, in particular his portrait of African American artist Scipio Moorhead. He also says that short includes an original score by Nicholas Brittell, who composed both of Jenkins’ feature films, “Moonlight” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.
“The Underground Railroad” will premiere on Prime on Friday, May 14. Watch “The Gaze” below.