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New television Drama ‘Underground’ Explores the Importance of Underground Railroad

Aldis Hodge and Jurnee Smollett-Bell

Aldis Hodge and Jurnee Smollett-Bell

Slavery is a permanent black eye on the history of the United States.  Though many films and television shows over the last few years have dealt with slavery, the Underground Railroad remains a subject that’s lightly trended upon. Underground is a new television series on WGN set to explore this often overlooked part of history. Starring Jurnee Smollett-Bell (True Blood, Friday Night Lights) and Aldis Hodge (Leverage, Straight Outta Compton), Underground takes place before the Civil War in 1857.

The show follows a young slave named Noah (Hodge), a resourceful and brave man who tries to organize an escape from Macon Plantation.  As Noah tries to put his plan into motion, he has to be careful about who he can trust, dodging slave hunters and fellow slaves alike.  Smollett-Bell plays Rosalee, a shy but internally strong house slave. Their master, Tom Macon, is a powerful man who won’t hesitate to exert his power on anyone who crosses him. Meanwhile, Smollett’s brother Jussie (Empire), will guest star as Josey, a runaway who doesn’t trust anyone.

Television allows for deeper exploration when used to its fullest effect, and Underground will benefit as a result. What will make Underground standout is the ability over the course of the series to look at not only the plans for escape but also to explore the social, moral, and political complexities during this time.  Most people know about Harriet Tubman but fewer people are aware of William Still, whose documentation of the slaves he helped provided much of the historical records referenced today.  Underground will give viewers a glimpse of how this clandestine system operated.

There’s a chance to learn about the how phrases and songs were used to communicate.  The synopsis suggests the effects of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 will be explored.  This show can also explore the opposition Blacks still faced in the North after escaping, or how free Blacks like Still helped the cause even though there they were endanger of being captured and enslaved.

There are so many different routes this show can follow, making it one of the more interesting new shows getting ready to premiere in the next year.  WGN isn’t a big network but it has already given Underground a straight to series order.  Anthony Hemingway (Red Tails) serves as executive producer.  The series is set to premiere on WGN America in 2016.

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