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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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One thought on “New television Drama ‘Underground’ Explores the Importance of Underground Railroad

  1. The PA Abolitionist Society was the largest and strongest abolitionist society in the US at the time. William Still was one of its' more active members. One of its' founders was Benjamin Franklin, a former slave owner. There are so many wonderful stories there, I really hope that they do this show justice. I read the biography of Lucretia Coffin Mott, a Quaker preacher abolitionist, which was wonderful. I also went to the Atwater Kent Museum, where I read about a member of Richard Allen's Church, Mother Bethel AME (the first African American Church in Phila, with the first African American minister) who was in the shipping business with a white man in NC. They picked up escaped slaves from the south and secretly shipped them from NC to Canada, where they set up another freemen church. Richard Allen and his brother were former slaves who worked on encouraging slave owners to voluntarily give up their slaves and put together plans to free them (emancipation just let them go, but they and their masters despertely needed transitional services (financing, education, job training and psychological and religious counseling) for them to have a good life together). They have an amazing story that should be told!

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