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‘Underground’ Producers Look to Enlighten a New Generation About a Key Piece of Black History

From left: Akiva Goldsman, Joe Pokaski, Misha Green, John Legend, Mike Jackson, Anthony Hemingway

The Underground Railroad was a gateway to freedom for slaves fleeing sub-human status in the pursuit of life and liberty promised to every man by America’s founding fathers.  Running throughout the 1800s, the Underground Railroad was an important chapter in America’s history and yet, it’s treated with the reverence of a footnote.

The producers of Underground, WGN America’s upcoming television series, looks to unshackle the Underground Railroad from its status of America’s abandoned past.

During their Television Critics Association winter meeting panel this past Friday, Underground executive producer Akiva Goldsman explained how this monumental yet minimally mentioned moment in America’s history “is a period of time in our history which has somehow become obscured by shadow.  It’s not taught, we don’t learn it…it’s the vanishing of our past, and therefore the whole wonderful notion we are doomed to repeat it becomes ever more likely.”

He also said the rampant hyperbole in today’s age of instant reaction undermines examination of this time period.

“Everything is ‘slavery.’ Everything is ‘the Holocaust.’  These words have specific meaning.  It’s the corruption of words that begins the corruption of ideas.  That is terrifying,” he said.

Co-creator and executive producer Misha Green said in an interview with Shadow and Act that she knew very little about the Underground Railroad besides, “just a paragraph in our history books.” But, she said, “I knew that it was an amazing story, but the more we started researching it was like, truth is stranger than fiction.  We couldn’t make up the stories we were reading, the ways that these people were fighting back.”

Underground centers on a group of slaves escaping from a Georgia plantation.  They are aided by an abolitionist couple while dodging slave catchers charged with bringing them back, dead or alive.  The series stars Aldis Hodge (Straight Outta Compton) as Noah, the mastermind behind the escape, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell plays Rosalee, a shy but brave house slave.  The show has attracted tremendous talent, with John Legend acting not only as an executive producer but writing several songs for the show.  Underground looks to resurrect forgotten history with a 10-episode season, beginning with its commercial-free debut on March 9th.

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