(AllHipHop News) On Friday afternoon, members of the Clark Atlanta University student body and faculty packed into the Bishop Cornelius L. Henderson student center to experience the powerful new WGN America television series Underground. The Georgia HBCU hosted a private screening of the show centered around a group of slaves on a mission to achieve freedom, and cast member Jurnee Smollett-Bell was on hand to answer questions about the historical drama.
“The story of the Underground Railroad is a story we hadn’t heard yet. The Underground Railroad was the first integrated civil rights movement in our nation,” Smollett-Bell told the crowd. “It was one of the first times we really rebelled. I wanted to see that story. I wanted to explore us being revolutionaries. I wanted to explore us revolting and fighting back.”
The first episode of Underground moves at a brisk pace, almost as if to force the viewer to empathize with the anxiety of the characters’ innate need to break free from the bondage that has defined their entire lives. Director Anthony Hemingway (Treme, Shameless) sets the tone from the initial moments of screen time, and “The Macon 7” serves as a masterful opener for the series.
Throughout the screening, the audience in the Henderson multi-purpose room went from gasping over acts of brutality to laughing at passive-aggressive conversations to applauding the will of the enslaved people to claim their humanity. Underground is a story about slavery that does not focus merely on the repressive culture of plantation life. It is inherently about recognizing the strength within us all to conquer both external and internal obstacles that attempt to hold us back from reaching whatever goal we set to achieve.
“That spirit of fighting back was not invented recently. We come from that,” said Smollett-Bell. “It’s a powerful image to see the odds that they were up against, and to see them overcome that, to see the testament of human will, to see the fact that we come from kings and queens – we are able to overcome anything. We’re survivors.”
Underground is being executive produced by Grammy-winning singer John Legend. The show was created by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski. Besides Smollett-Bell, the cast also features Aldis Hodge, Christopher Melon, Alano Miller, Jessica de Gouw, Renwick Scott, Marc Blucas, Adina Porter, and Mykelti Williamson.
Underground is scheduled to premiere Wednesday, March 9 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on WGN America.
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Check out photos from the Underground screening at Clark Atlanta University in the gallery below.