The cast and crew of WGN America’s “Undergound” shared stories of working together on set, offered students advice and highlighted the importance of telling America’s slave stories, particularly during the time of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The panel discussion, which took place Sunday, Oct. 23, in the Gutstein Gallery, included executive producer and director, Anthony Hemingway, actor Aldis Hodge and actresses Amirah Vann and Aisha Hinds, as well as director of photography Kevin McKnight, production designer Meghan Rogers and costume designer Karyn Wagner.
A screening of the Season One trailer began the event with questions for Hemingway following directly after.
“It’s just wonderful to be a part of this storytelling,” said Hemingway in regards to the impact that just the first season has had on its audience. “We really pour our blood, sweat and tears into it on a daily basis, but we enjoy it.”
Moderator Mekeisha Madden Toby from Essence magazine, asked if Hemingway was surprised by the amount of non-black viewers tuning in and rooting for these characters and if the story resonates with white audiences to which he responded with:
“It’s a human story,” he said. “These superheroes that are represented in the show, these characters, can represent anyone.”
A hot topic brought up throughout the panel discussion was the relevancy the story had and the connection between, the story Underground depicts–slaves escaping through the underground railroad–and the current Black Lives Matter movement.
“It is important and it is now that we need to be seeing more of these stories to help us learn and progress and change. I think we need–Underground came in at the right time,” said Hemingway.
Recent slave trade stories include “12 Years a Slave,” and “The Book of Negroes,” and “Birth of a Nation.” During the open question-and-answer periord, a Ghanaian film maker asked if Hemingway often encounters the question, “Why another slave story?” and how he responds to such a question.
“To people who think they don’t want to watch another slave narrative or viewers who haven’t seen the show and are not sure that they want to tune in for another slave narrative: when you live in a country that is built on a foundation of slavery every narrative is informed by the slave narrative,” she said.
“So whether you know it or not, if you’re watching ‘Blackish’ you are watching a slave narrative, if you’re watching ‘Empire’ you’re watching a slave narrative, if you’re watching Monday Night Football you’re watching a slave narrative, if you’re watching the election you’re watching a slave narrative,” Hinds stated.
The audience responded with murmurs of agreement as Hinds narrated the importance of telling such a story. Her comments on the need to tell such a story are what concluded the panel discussion.
“It’s important to have a context for all of that because it informs where we are right now. The black lives movement — it’s all informed by this original slave narrative. So to have it articulated in such a refreshing way, the way that Misha and Joe does it, it’s a gift. So tune in.”
“Underground” is currently filming its second season in Savannah. For more information on Underground visit WGN America’s website.