Caption: Jurnee Smollett-Bell is one of the stars of WGN America’s ‘Underground.’ (Courtesy photo)
A riveting new television series is seeking to take viewers on a thrilling escape throughout the dark shadows and secret stops of Underground Railroad. Produced by Academy and Grammy Award-winner John Legend, WGN America’s original series “Underground” was screened at the White House, as part of the White House Office of Public Engagement’s Black History Month event, “These Hallowed Grounds,” on Feb. 22.
The story of a small band of slaves fleeing a Georgian cotton plantation features leading roles from Jurnee Smollett-Bell of “Friday Night Lights”, Aldis Hodge of “Straight Outta Compton” and Chris Meloni of “Law & Order: SVU”.
“I wanted to see us rebelling,” Smollett-Bell told the AFRO. “That’s a light that I wanted to see shine on our story. We’ve seen the occupation, now I want to see the revolution.”
Smollett-Bell says her character, Rosalie, is a rebel but doesn’t know it yet. She is typically a quiet house slave who is forced to come out of her shell in order to survive the overseer’s advances.
“Being able to be used as a vessel and give truth to their stories is a real honor and a privilege,” she said. “They were strong; they were super heroes. It’s so important for us to know that.”
The first season of the show will follow the journey of the escaped slaves, while successive seasons will detail the intricacies of the Underground Railroad and Civil War during the struggle for freedom.
Academy Award-winning executive producer Akiva Goldsman said the show aims to entertain but has educational value.
“Our outcome goal is not to give you a history lesson, not to make you feel like you are going to school, but to make you riveted and tune in week after week,” Goldsman, notable for “I Am Legend”, told The AFRO. “Without noticing it, we will all have learned something. It’s time to see them for who they are and what they did because we all stand on their shoulders and this country stands on their shoulders.”
Hodge’s character masterminds the escape plan and channeled his own experiences growing up with racism to play the part of Noah, a fearless blacksmith who develops a love interest in Smollett-Bell’s character.
“I grew up with kids calling me the ‘n’ word,” he told the AFRO. “I’m an American and it’s hard to get that same respect. I wanted to honor the history. The younger generation is not given a culture to be proud of. [“Underground”] is something that should spark interest in that.”
Show creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, who wrote the script over three years ago, expressed their excitement to the AFRO over the positive views the hour-long weekly thriller has received during advanced screenings. It will air on new network WGN America beginning March 9, and they hope it will attract an audience of all backgrounds.
“This is showing that the root of our history is working together, and I think that’s more prevalent today,” Green said. “The past highlights the present.”
“Underground” premieres on March 9 on WGN America. Check your local listings for times and channels.