Amazon Bets on Jordan Peele and Barry Jenkins

Detail from the poster for Jordan Peele’s Us

In line with her declared mission to create “original, culturally relevant, and riveting television,” Jennifer Salke, the new head of Amazon Studios, yesterday announced deals with two of the most talented filmmakers currently working, Jordan Peele and Barry Jenkins. The “first look” deal with Peele gives Amazon the right to take on or turn down any series ideas the director and producer might propose; and Jenkins will direct all eleven episodes of a limited series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Underground Railroad.

In Whitehead’s alternative history, two slaves in the pre–Civil War era escape from their Georgia plantation via a network of secret routes and safe houses. So far, so feasible. But Whitehead adds fictional elements to his depiction of the historical Underground Railroad—in the book, there is an actual railroad with tracks, trains, the works. Reviewing the novel in 2016 for the New York Times, Juan Gabriel Vásquez wrote that it “touches on the historical novel and the slave story, but what it does with those genres is striking and imaginative.”

Jenkins is currently wrapping postproduction on his feature-film follow-up to Moonlight (2016), which, of course, won three Oscars, including best picture. If Beale Street Could Talk is an adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel that Jenkins wrote in 2013, at the same time as he was writing Moonlight. Regina King, Colman Domingo, Pedro Pascal, Diego Luna, and Dave Franco star in the story of a woman who aims to prove that her fiancé has been framed for a crime he didn’t commit. The Hollywood Reporter has Beale Street on its shortlist of fifteen films likely to premiere in Venice in the fall.

Jordan Peele already has two projects set up at Amazon. He’ll executive produce The Hunt, a ten-episode series about a diverse group in New York in 1977 who track down hundreds of high-ranking Nazi officials conspiring to create the Fourth Reich in the U.S. “It’s cathartic,” stated Peele last month. “It’s noir. It’s frighteningly relevant.”

The second project is Lorena, a true-crime documentary series centering on Lorena Bobbitt, who became a global media sensation when she cut off her husband’s penis one night in 1993 after he’d raped her. Again, Peele will executive produce.

Peele also has a feature film in the works, his second after Get Out (2017), for which he won an Oscar for best original screenplay. Back in February, the told the Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Galloway that he was still writing his follow-up and that “playing around with the thriller, horror, action, fun genre of intrigue is my favorite. That’s my sweet spot. So I think tonally it should resemble Get Out. That said, I want to make a completely different movie. I want to address something different than race in the next one.”

A few weeks later, Peele tweeted a teaser poster for the upcoming thriller, Us, and added little further information other than that it would be released in March 2019. THR’s Borys Kit and Mia Galuppo reported that the story would likely center on two couples and that Winston Duke, Lupita Nyong’o, and Elisabeth Moss were “circling to star.”

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