The Pained Importance of WGN America’s ‘Underground’

Posted on March 10, 2016

I watched the beautifully shot and passionately portrayed Underground on WGN America Wednesday night. While watching, I couldn’t help but recognize how important it is that shows like this be celebrated. At the same time, I lamented how it might be received by white audiences.

Underground tells the story of slaves in the Antebellum South, dreaming of escaping north and finding freedom. And this series has everything going for it. Period piece that dives head first into the perils of slavery? CHECK. Involvement of prominent and “black-approved” celebrity? CHECK (John Legend). Cast of actors guaranteed to deliver blistering performances? CHECK (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) CHECK (Aldris Hodge) CHECK (Chris Meloni). The show does not disappoint.

My breath was literally taken away in a long shot that led Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s “Rosalee” on a run through the plantation and into the back yard so that she could help deliver a child. I cringed as she was beaten, taking a brutal whipping punishment in place of her younger brother. Even the image of the slaves working in a cotton field is as striking as anything I’ve seen in a feature film. It is these immaculate and wonderfully cinematic shots, punctuated by modern music, that put the show in another league of small screen entertainment.

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