Screenwriter and producer Misha Green, has given television a new perspective of slavery by capturing stories that transforms the stereotypical image of slaves into heroines. In her recent drama TV series Underground, co-created with former Heroes writer Joe Pakaski, she explores the love, pain, and humanity of slaves on the Underground Railroad through an entertaining and organic lens.
“I want people to know who lived during this time and weren’t just slaves like as we say. We got slaves, done. I’m like no these were people,” Green said.
The drama series was first aired on March 9th with WGN. When asked about how the idea came about Green explained, “My sister said to me, ‘you should do a show about the Underground Railroad’. I knew about the Underground Railroad, but I think once we started researching Joe Pokaski, my co-creator and I, it was just the stories that I felt that I hadn’t even heard. And I’m like I’ve learned about this stuff, but to hear about these stories of ingenuity and how they migrated 600 miles north. I’m like how has this not been told?”
To develop the characters and context Green researched and read many slave narratives found in the Library of Congress. She also was inspired by her love for horror films to add surprise elements to each episode.
Underground includes a remarkable crew behind and on camera from Jurnee Smollet-Bell, John Legend, and Aldis Hodge. In light of the work it takes to hire such notable artists and actors, Green was proud to say that many of the crewmembers were on board from the beginning.
“Actually we got a lot of our first choices, like Jurnee Smollett-Bell,” Green said. “I grew up with her so I was like of course Jurnee, and then Christopher Meloni. I think that what was great about it was that a lot of the people came passionate about the project. They came at these roles like I want to be that person. I think that all of them draw you in and it doesn’t hurt that they’re sexy.”
Despite the crew’s excitement, many networks were hesitant to take on the series. “A lot of people were thinking oh my god who wants to watch 12 Years of Slave every week? One of the things we kept saying is that this is not about the occupation; it’s about the revolution. This is real. We don’t have to make this stuff up, we don’t have to move into this sci-fi world, and that’s worth telling because it’s the story of American heroes,” Green said.
Some critics argue that they are tired of seeing African-American people’s history only being connected to slavery. When asked about how she responds to this issue Green stated, “Yeah I want to see when we were kings and queens too, but we’re kings and queens here. I want to see that be told and not for us to run from that fact. I do really believe that our people’s struggle was a beautiful struggle, we just have never shown a light on the beautiful side and what it means. It was an integrated civil rights movement. Seeing everybody come together and what can be accomplished, that’s exciting to me.”
Starting young in the game, Green has not been discouraged to develop major projects like Underground because of her awareness of the dedication and confidence necessary to be successful in the industry.
“You have to be bold. It’s really about making that decision and falling through with that,” Green said.
According to Green, the crew only had fourteen days to shoot two episodes. Aside from the houses that were already built, the setting was designed to fit the concepts within the project. The production designer Meghan Rodgers developed every intricate idea to the ripples in the pond destroying the big house, coinciding with the enslaved peoples decision to escape.
Anthony Hemingway has directed the first four episodes of Underground and it continues to air weekly on WGN until May 11th.
Staff Writer, A&E