The Atlantic

John Legend on Underground and the Importance of Empathy

The musician and executive producer of the WGN historical drama discusses the contemporary relevance of telling marginalized stories.
Source: Richard Shotwell / Invision / AP

Last year was a banner year for black media. After Moonlight led a record haul for black filmmakers and actors at the Oscars, and with the success of shows like Black-ish and Atlanta on television, the landscape seems much more open to films and shows that provide diverse and often exploratory vantages of the African-American experience than it has been in the past.

One part of this recently acclaimed wave of black media is the WGN America series Underground, which embarks on its second season on March 8. The template of the show, helmed by directors Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, seems well-worn—it follows a group of enslaved people attempting to escape slavery—but its main strength comes as a subtle subversion of works in the American screen canon on slavery, from Amistad to 12 Years a Slave. Unlike many of those films, this show’s ambition isn’t to provide the definitive contemporary commentary on race, slavery, and history, but to use the setting of slavery as a way to explore the kinds of arcs and themes common to most

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