Seeing black people take charge of their lives, fighting oppression with violence, and utilizing their intellect, must be a hard sell to an all-white board of directors who hope to be the next Fox News.
The news of WGN’s pre-civil war drama, Underground getting canceled is the latest in a slew of cancellations across mass media with powerful, defiant black leads. On Tuesday, WGN America released their obligatory “going in the a new direction” explanation. But let’s face it – white folks don’t enjoy non-compliant and assertive black folks in real life or on their screens.
The true fans knew it was some nonsense, and Underground actress Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who plays Rosalee, took to Instagram with this explanation:
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Listen, we love you all. We hear you…we have the best fans in the world. Y'all been running with us for 2 seasons and are the reason we even got this far. Unfortunately, it's true, WGN America cancelled #underground today. They were bought by Sinclair. Google them. They are going in a different direction and want to become the next Fox News. Arg. I wish I was telling you different news but just know we love you all and are grateful to everyone that has been running with us. Playing Rosalee has been the privilege of a lifetime. If you want a season 3, feel free to let the world know…✊🏽✌🏽😘 #riseup #TheBlackRose
So I looked up Sinclair Broadcast Group, they operate all over the country but not in most major cities. Their board of directors is made up entirely of white, cishet men. On May 8, Sinclair announced they had purchased WGN America and as the first order of business, they removed Underground from the network before the month’s conclusion.
Be wary of Sinclair though. They're trying to make local stations mini Fox Newses, but more to the right.
— John Legend (@johnlegend) May 30, 2017
I will be the first to admit that another narrative with slaves running through muck for their lives, suffering from severe physical and mental trauma because of white people and slavery, was not what I was looking for in a TV show. However, the writers and executive producers who include John Legend, have taken a different approach in this slave era narrative.
The main characters Rosalee and Noah are runaway slaves, and in the second season they team up with the one and only Harriet ‘Moses’ Tubman to free more families from captivity. There was one episode featuring Harriet, who is played by Aisha Hinds, preaching to a group of abolitionists about the physical and psychological toll of slavery and its connection to black people’s need for faith. That episode alone is Emmy-worthy, and one more reason we are all sitting here with giant question marks above our heads.
In Underground, the main characters are fighting and evading slave catchers, killing them and risking it all for their freedom. The enslaved people are thinkers, quick on their feet and courageous. The narrative is a strong juxtaposition to the true story and Academy Award winning film, 12 Years a Slave where the main character has to beg and finesse himself into freedom and use his skills for the betterment of a plantation. In the end, it is the kindness of a white person which saves the protagonist.
The producers of Underground show appreciation to what really happened but are forgoing the idea that slaves were passive and compliant– they are providing a historical reprieve from white oppression. Sinclair Broadcast Group came in, projected their white gaze and said, “enough of that shit,” and cancelled the show.
Seeing black people take charge of their lives, fighting oppression with violence, and utilizing their intellect, must be a hard sell to an all-white board of directors who hope to be the next Fox News. I remember Ms. Hattie McDaniel and her Academy Award win as Mammy in Gone With the Wind and I cannot help but think that this is the image more palatable to white people.
On a bad night, Underground brought in half a million viewers. The other prime time television offering, Salem struggles to bring in half that. The numbers don’t add up so we cannot help but think if Rosalee had not stabbed the overseer who was going to rape her, we would not even be having this conversation.
At this time, the producers of Underground are searching for a new home. You can support them by reaching out to your favorite streaming sources and new viewers can watch both seasons on Hulu.
Featured Image: WGN