Home Black History WGN’s “Underground”: Groundbreaking Look at Slavery
WGN’s “Underground”: Groundbreaking Look at Slavery

WGN’s “Underground”: Groundbreaking Look at Slavery


By: Evette Champion

In the past, Black viewers have voiced their concerns where stories about African Americans tend to have that “when we were slave” story lines, however, the reviews for Underground seems to resonate with the African American community. Why? Because it changes the narrative in every way possible—from the music, the story line, even the camera work isn’t like what we’ve seen before.

Anthony Hemingway said he wanted to defy all expectations when it came to the WGN America series. Hemingway directed four of the episodes, including this week’s premier.

The first thing viewers will note that is different is the black men and women who are enslaved in a plantation in Georgia in 1857 aren’t the typical passive victims we normally see. Instead, a group of them plan their escape by using the famous Underground Railroad.

One of those slaves includes Rosalee, who is played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell. During a panel discussion at the Sundance Film Festival, she said:

“I read about our stories and I always ask myself, ‘Well, what about the people that fought back?’ I have this desire to see us portrayed differently and to see us be revolutionaries… For me this was an opportunity to explore the boldness that I come from.”

Alano Miller, Smollett-Bell’s co-star told NBCBLK:

“For me, ‘Underground’ is a celebration. It is about people taking ownership. It is about our first civil rights movement.”


The series uses music in ways that other shows do not, as it helps drive the emotion and the story that they are trying to tell.

John Legend, a producer for the series, says:

“I’ve written a lot of songs for soundtracks and scores, and it’s always fun to see it connect. When it comes together beautifully, it’s such a powerful moment.”


Underground gives viewers a history lesson about race, enslavement, and the liberation of the African American community without it truly feeling like a lesson of history. It also sheds light on how that blotchy stain of slavery and racism is still felt today when people talk about the Black Lives Matter movement or the protesting when another young black man is murdered by the hands of the police.

Perhaps another reason Underground is unlike other historical themed shows of the time is that it takes a theme we have seen time and time again and it turns everything upside down. Instead of showing the slaves as helpless, they are shown as strong individuals fighting back and revolting. Perhaps it is more relevant today because that is kind of what we see happening today—the African American community is standing up and taking a stand.

As Miller said to NBCBLK:

“And so I’m hoping the show continues to heal and that it gets conversations out there and that it inspires young people and older to brave those gaps and really get down to the root of what’s going on in our society.”


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  4. whoah this blog is great i love reading your articles. Keep up the good work! You know, lots of people are looking around for this info, you can aid them greatly.

  5. Will you remind everyone that the black man wasn’t the only slaves in America. I can trace my ancestry directly back to a distant cousin from north Ireland who was sold as slave to a rich family in the colonies. Do they believe they are the only ones to experience the hate. My father saw the signs that said No Irish need apply and could only get the back braking labor jobs you had to fight for. I grow weary shouldering blame that also falls on one of the largest slavers in the south who himself was black. Why isn’t the story’s told of the black land owners who also had slaves. I tire of the rhetoric and the extended hand that waits for others to fill it. When it isn’t then the problems start ant the threats of no peace chant. I was as poor as any but decided not to stay that way. If I can any can.

    1. It is a myth there were ‘Irish slaves. They were indentured servants. As difficult as white servants’ experiences were, enslaved Africans were the people treated as livestock. Europeans who were forcibly deported from England, Scotland and Ireland to the Caribbean in the mid-17th century cannot be accurately described as “slaves.” They were indentured servants. The difference is not merely a matter of words. Indentured servitude was temporary and non-hereditary, with legal personhood, while colonial slavery was perpetual and hereditary, with sub-human legal status. This means that after the Irish served their five years of indentureship they were free white people and the Irish were also involved in the inhumane treatment of enslaved Africans. They also became the police force of New York brutalizing African Americans for decades.

  6. Howbout we not focus on slavery, but instead, focused on the way of life in Africa before slavery. Black people were Kings, Queens, Architects, mathematicians, Scientists, Scholars, etc. let’s focus on that

      1. Howbout wenfocusebon African life before slavery. We were a people before slavery existed. We were Scholars, Scientists, architects, mathematicians, Doctors, , KINGS & QUEENS. Howbout wenfocusebon that, and educate ourselves, restore pride in self!!!!!

    1. I agree with you. Isn’t it interesting that BET and TV-One never show any Nigerian movies (Nollywood) or documentaries about the history of countries in Africa. Thank God for Hidden Colors!

  7. Quote from rapper Big Daddy Kane, “As I walk the streets of Hollywood boulevard, thinking of how hard it was for those that starred in the movies portraying the roles of butlers and maids, slaves and hoes.”

    1. Butler: Forest Whitaker, Robert Guillaume

    2. Maids: Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Hattie McDaniel

    3. Slaves: Denzel Washington, Levar Burton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Samuel L Jackson, Kerry Washington, Halle Berry, Carmen Ejogo, S Epatha Merkerson, Morgan Freeman, Djimon Hounsou

    Hoes: Halle Berry, Stacey Dash, Rae Dawn Chong, Jessica Lucas, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Cynthia Addai Robinson, Beyonce, Rihanna, any black woman who has appeared in a rap video

  8. If you choose to watch this inaccurate garbage, or any other slave themed tv show or movie, just remember that all of the profits are going into the bank accounts of our oppressors. It’s not going to us!

  9. There are four ways to conquer a entire race:

    1. Murder all of the strong, educated men
    2. Rape the women
    3. Molest, poison, enslave and teach the children your norms, values and religion
    4. Destroy and re-write the history

    This is what white people are doing to us! This is why hollywood is constantly making these slave themed movies and tv shows. Hollywood and the Amerikkkan government are trying to completely destroy us! This is why I say to all black people BOYCOTT HOLLYWOOD! It angers me that so many of these black actors and actresses are willing to help the wicked white beast conquer us. It also angers me that these same black celebrities choose to support politicians who have signed laws that have seriously hurt the black race! Damn Jurnee! Why did she choose to take this job? Did she need the money that bad?

  10. The description of at least two of the characters was very interesting: “Rosalee, a young, shy and sheltered house slave on the Macon plantation” and “Elizabeth Hawkes, a socialite with abolitionist ideals.” Talk about rewriting history and revisionism! A young enslaved African woman like “Rosalee” could not be “shy” and “sheltered.” She would have been raped by the white men who owned her moreso because she was a “house slave.” Her mother could not protect her since she would also be an enslaved woman. No one would protect her or shelter her.
    The character of Elizabeth Hawkes is pure fantasy. White women living on plantations in the south did not have “abolitionist ideals” simply because they benefited from the system and loved living like that! When the white men raped enslaved African girls (like Rosalee) and women (like Rosalee’s mother) white women had no sympathy and even blamed the enslaved African females for the rapes! They would beat those women because they “tempted” the good Christian white men into the act of rape! The women and girls were portrayed as “Jezebels” when they were raped by white men. This series is just revisionist and rewriting of slavery in America!

  11. Another version of revising history to fit the Amerikkkanization of KneeGrows into KneeGrowpeans ! We’s all in this toogather now Massa !!!!!! LMAO


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