*WGN America’s “Underground” was the #1 trending topic on Twitter during its airing last week. The slave-escape thriller was created and executive produced by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, and executive producer and Academy Award-winner John Legend, the 10-episode, hour-long program is set mostly on a Southern plantation in 1857, and focuses on Noah (Aldis Hodge), a slave who is willing to risk his life for freedom, and he finds a surprising ally in well-mannered house slave Rosalee (Jurnee Smollett-Bell).
“Underground” features an acclaimed cast that also includes Christopher Meloni and Alano Miller as the cunning field negro Cato, while Amirah Vann plays the fierce head house slave, Ernestine. EUR/Electronic Urban Report caught up with Alano and Amirah ahead of this week’s episode to explore how the template of the series reflects modern society, which is ripe with racial tension and social injustice.
Some may find any retelling of the history of the African in America quite exhausting to relive and difficult to swallow as entertainment. However, “Underground” is a visual thrill, with stinging reminders about why black culture today holds on to – and passes down like tradition – many divisive ideals.
“Unfortunately, I think society is still dealing with different types of slave mentalities. And people are still enslaved in so many ways, and so it is relevant in that way,” Alano said in response to why is ”Underground” an important story to tell now.
He added: “I also think that what we’ve done with the music and the storytelling is, we’ve flushed these characters out, and we see a different perspective of slavery (where we) show them as heroes and finally celebrate them. I think that’s something we normally don’t get a chance to view. That they’re fighting back and that they find purpose in themselves. They want a future and they want dreams. They want to leave a legacy with their family, and I think today – right now, we are all still going for those things,” he explained. People still want to have their equality. That’s the struggle that has been going on all over the world, not just in America.”
Amirah described how her experience working on the series has served as a reminder about why there’s “so much ignorance being celebrated right now.”
“I believe that there are so many beliefs that we hold true today, and statements that we make and ideas that we have, that we pass on to our children right now, that are rooted in this time period,” she said. “There’s a lot of ignorance being celebrated right now in our country. And one of the things that I’ve realized from working on the show, is that so many phrases come from this time. The thoughts about colorism. The roots of the black family. So to kind of reawaken and take a microscope to this time, I think will help shed light on where we currently are, and also make us question what are we saying and why we aren’t taking a little bit more responsibly for our language.”
John Legend’s modern music, which enhances the intensity of the scenes, certainly males the series appealing to the younger generation, which Alano says is he “glad” about because “we need them to know more about their history.”
The actors hope that young activists today are inspired by this series primarily because, as Amirah noted: “Revolution happened because of these people who were just sitting there together with their families and saying, ‘we can’t do this anymore.'”
Fans can catch up on the much-talked about series via the website. “Underground” airs Wednesday at 10/9c.