Why aren’t you watching Underground?

12924591_1292654777415820_7618641586492328670_nOk. I’ve been quiet about it long enough. Now, here comes the question. Why aren’t you watching Underground? My sincere apologies to those of you who do not get WGNA to watch it—June and the DVDs will be here soon.  However, for the rest of you, I hope that you use the comments to post your answer. Call it market research on my part as a historical fiction author who writes about African American characters. I’m also asking because I really want to know.

Underground is not a “slave movie”.  I’m a little weary of people saying that they are tired of seeing “slave movies”. I do not count Django because Tarantino made it (don’t get me started on him). Twelve years a Slave is relatively recent but that was released years ago now.  So unless you have the old Roots miniseries on a continuous loop (and I sympathize if you wish to forego watching the remake), I’m not sure what people mean when they say they are tired of watching “slave movies.” So if this is a standard response of yours, I would appreciate the time that you take to clarify. Thank you.

If these are other reasons people don’t watch a show that features the enslaved (since that is what we say now) population as full-fledged complex individuals with agency and who make choices, I need something more. I need specific reasons. I need evidence. This is a show we have needed for a long time and now it is here. It needs support. Now.  Not when it’s over and it’s on DVD or Netflix.  Now.  Even if the producers choose not to make a Season 2, then we to show support for stories that show the complexity of the horrific and impossible situation of enslavement.

Sometimes I wonder if watching what people endured during this horrible time makes some realize all that someone in their past endured.  Maybe that’s too much pressure, or too much to take in at once. Maybe you feel as if you aren’t doing your part in making your own history.  Maybe you realize that the horrors that they show are only a fraction of what really happened. Well, getting the ratings of this show to rise is a way to help with visibility. It is a way of showing the powers that be in television, movies and yes, in publishing (where I do have a stake) that we want to see more shows like this. We need to see more movies where the enslaved make choices for themselves and their families, like Ms. Ernestine. We need to read more books with wide distribution that show emerging, brave heroines like Rosalee. If you feel guilty for not living up to their bravery, fine. However, let’s not miss this moment in time where, by giving a show an hour a week, that portrayals like this can increase and not diminish.

So, I’m just going to say it.  The enslaved lived these lives of inhumane horror so that you can sit in your living room or bedroom each Wednesday at 10 p.m. and watch television. You can go get your bowl of popcorn or sit with your phone in your hand and live tweet to friends. You can post your outrage on Facebook. All in comfort. All because they took it all on. For you. For all of us.

So watch.

54 thoughts on “Why aren’t you watching Underground?

  1. Hi Piper, I don”t follow popular entertainment much so this is the first I’m hearing of this program. Just as I’m newly learning about The Birth of A Nation. I’d be interested in hearing who is saying they’re tired of “slave” movies. Is it people who are interested in history saying they’re tired of market depictions of that history that aren’t accurate (i.e. just trying to cash in on a trend) or people who in general don’t want their entertainment to make them think/act our of their comfort zone (i.e. what they’ve just seen is asking them to rethink how they live their lives). Thanks for the question. I will definitely look up Underground.

    • One of the complaints from the show’s fans is that the publicity for Underground seemed minimal, even though they came to my school before it aired and showed the pilot episode with a discussion session after. I don’t know what else could have been done, but some have wondered if the show got enough publicity. WGNA is a small network, though and that may have something to do with it.
      As for the “slave movie” comments, I have heard this so many times, from so many people–even family, that I had to mention it. I think we’ve listed the reasons why this response is given so often, but I just wanted to take some time to unpack it further. Thanks for responding Anna and I hope you enjoy the show, however you locate it!

  2. Thanks for motivating me to find out where and when it’s on. Other Outlander, my TV watching consists of QVC and reruns of Law and Order. Set up the DVR. Have to remember to do the same when I head up north soon.

  3. I love this show. I don’t have cable, but I purchased the season on Amazon Prime, so I end up watching it a few days after the episode airs. The characters are amazing & complex, not just stereotypes & the feelings the actors can convey without words is just overwhelming. Some of the most moving scenes are ones where no words are spoken (such as Ernestine standing at that baby crib). I agree, everyone should watch this show!

    • Yes, Lisa C! Thank you for your comment and make sure to spread the word in some way, word of mouth or social media. People need to know this kind of programming exists.

  4. I would be watching every episode if I could get it. So I’m looking forward when it comes out either on DVD or Netflix.

  5. I don’t watch television at all. Hollywood stopped producing shows and movies that promote morals and true family value a long time ago. What comes out of Hollywood now is all full of sin. Those shows push sin at the viewers as if it is a good thing. Covetousness, sexual immorality, lying, you name it, its all shoved at the viewer and glorified in the process. That is not something I want to watch, nor do I want my family watching it. I have no idea what may or may not be shown in a show like Underground because we simply do not watch modern programming or movies. We stick to a select few older shows and movies on DVD.
    On a slightly different note. As someone that has very good reasons for not watching television programming today, I find it strange that you would try to shame others into watching a show simply because you like it and want to see it supported. The tone of this post is accusatory at best. There are many people that choose not to watch a show for many very good reasons. And yes, being tired of slave shows is a very good reason. Why should anyone watch a show simply because you, or anyone, wants to see that show supported?

    • Sorry you took my tone in the that way Crystal, since I was not trying to shame anyone. As I said in the beginning, I’m legitimately trying to find out why people weren’t watching it. I don’t think of the “slave movie” tiredness as a good reason, and I really would have appreciated hearing more specific evidence from you as to why you felt that was a good reason. It’s hard to provide specific reasons though, when the emotions involving enslavement are so close to the surface and I understand that. Blessings to you and yours and thank you for stopping by.

      • Piper, I read your whole post and did see where you said you really wanted to know why people weren’t watching Underground, but I also saw where you told your readers that their reason, if being tired of slave shows was the reason, wasn’t a good enough reason. Why isn’t it? It’s their reason and they shouldn’t need to like it simply because you think they should. As for whether or not emotion over slavery are close to the surface…I wouldn’t know as I personally have never met anyone, of any race, that has super strong feelings over slavery. Slavery ended in the 1800’s. We are all descended from people that lived through slavery but all of the people that experienced slavery in any form (at least legally in America) have long since passed away. Slavery isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a subject with hot buttons in anyone. Slavery was wrong but how many of us would not be here if it were not for slavery and whatever experiences our ancestors had as a result? As horrific as so much of slavery was, and is in some places, it is allowed by the Lord and he uses it to His purposes to bring about His plans.
        As for why I think someone being tired of slave shows is a good reason not to watch them…it is their reason and their life. If they don’t like slave shows they have no reason to watch them. If they are tired of seeing slave shows then why should they watch them to make you happy? Why should they watch it to promote something they don’t want to see? If they feel that their are too many slave shows in our world why would they want to up the ratings on a show they very well might wish had never been made?
        I personally have never seen this show, have barely heard of it. I have nothing against it but I am also not for it. The show simply is of no importance in my life. If I watched it, if it accurately portrays slavery, say by taking each persons story from someone’s diary from the time of slavery, then I might like it. Since I haven’t seen it I am simply commenting from an outsiders perspective. I was introduced to your blog post on this through social media and co some reason thought you might actually want to hear why someone might not be watching this show. As someone that doesn’t watch it I thought I would explain why I don’t but long before I finished your post I realized that what may have started out as a genuine question turned into a post that pushed your thoughts and beliefs on your readers. What does it matter what reason a person has for not liking, or watching, a show is? It is their reason. If they simply are tired of seeing slavery in movies maybe they don’t like seeing slavery, maybe they would like to forget it happened, maybe they think it is never realistically portrayed. Whatever their reason is it is a good reason for them and why should they give that reason up just because someone else doesn’t think it’s a good enough reason?
        I think it’s great that you enjoy this movie and hope you continue to enjoy it but that doesn’t mean everyone else needs to enjoy it or promote it. And although I personally am not tired of slave movies and I have nothing against watching them so long as they are true to what really happened and are no more morally debased than what it takes to share what was happening at that time in history, but I do have reasons for not watching 99.99% of what is on television and in movies and because I have reasons for avoiding such morally debased things I can well sympathize with a person that might simply want to tell you they don’t watch this show because they don’t like or are tired of slave movies. Why can’t their reason be good enough? Your reason for liking the show seems to be good enough for you even though it is your own personal reason.

      • The reason why I said it wasn’t a good enough reason is because the evidence to support their perspectives isn’t specific enough. This would usually mean names of “slave movies” to prove how relentlessly they are being produced, for example. I asked that someone take the time to clarify and you certainly have done that. Thank you for providing those specifics from your perspective.

        Also, just for the record, I never once indicated in the post that someone should watch the show to make me happy. Not once. Blessings to you and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      • You’re right, Piper, you never said anyone should watch the show to make you happy. That was my own take from the way you said your readers should support this show. I’m sorry if your intention was something other than what I took it as. I can’t understand why anyone would needto further clarify why they are tired of slave movies but maybe tthat’s just me and if it is then I’m sorry for having questioned you on that. It just seems to me that what a person watches or reads should be left up to them based on their own interests and beliefs. And that would stretch into supporting or not supporting a particular show.

      • I appreciate that clearing of the air. At the beginning of my post, I did use two crucial words that signaled my intent: market research. People are certainly permitted to select what they chose to consume for entertainment. As a historical fiction writer who might want to be part of those selections I have the right to ask why someone might or might not want to approach that kind of work. This space on my blog is a space where I’m free to ask those questions. It’s the reason it exists. There are other blogs and spaces for those who feel otherwise. Thank you for clarifying and for your honesty in answering my question.

  6. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff Radio Show and commented:
    Piper has been a frequent guest on the Write Stuff. As a pioneer author in the publishing industry of writing inspirational African American historical fiction and romance, she understands the need to have more shows like this.

  7. I am in love with Underground. So I thank you and Julie for putting it on my radar. I am so fortunate to have the WGN channel and I praise them for delivering such a magnetic series. I have to admit that sometimes I have to turn it off and then wait till I’m in the right head space so I can watch certain scenes. Slavery is such a painful topic. And to see it depicted with such brilliance, heart and accuracy makes it all the more impactful. I do wish that it was on a more mainstream channel so more people could watch it, although I wonder whether mainstream channels would have the courage to put such a topic on their channel. And we do need more shows like this. Our ancestors were so brave. I can’t even imagine the atrocities they lived through. They endured, all in the hopes of a brighter day and so we could live a better existence. It honestly makes me want to cry just thinking about it.

    • Yes, some folk in the watch group have wondered the same thing, Sandra, that it being on a smaller channel allowed for more truth to be told. And I’m with you on the tears, but I know that you are doing great things that proves their sacrifices were all worth it. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Another non-TV person here, and had not heard of the show before. But I found I can purchase an episode or entire season on Amazon streaming video for $1.99 – $19.99. I’m in. Thanks for the heads up.

  9. Reblogged this on Rhonda McKnight and commented:
    So this was said… “The enslaved lived these lives of inhumane horror so that you can sit in your living room or bedroom each Wednesday at 10 p.m. and watch television. You can go get your bowl of popcorn or sit with your phone in your hand and live tweet to friends. You can post your outrage on Facebook. All in comfort. All because they took it all on. For you. For all of us.” – Piper Huguley

  10. So, I’m watching if because of your facebook posts. It came to a Canadian station later than the original airing and I might have missed it because the station isn’t one I watch a whole lot so I would have missed their advertisements. I think we’re heading into the third installment. It’s powerful and moving and plain hard to watch. At the same time it takes my breath away just thinking about the courage and fortitude and drive that slaves had. I don’t know that I’d survive under those conditions.

    The only thing I have found questionable so far is the scene where the woman (can’t remember her name — she and her husband want to help with the underground railroad) jumped up onto a piano and started dancing the can-can to distract people at the ball so her husband could do some sleuthing. I can’t imagine that happening in polite society at that time — and her knickers were all black — and she was holding her dress right up to her waist. I just didn’t get it, because it seem so historically wrong. It does make me wonder what other liberties they took with historical details.

    If I’ve been reading the comments correctly — this isn’t a mini-series? It’s a series? That would be awesome because there are so many stories to be told.

    • Hi Kav, yes, there are 10 episodes in full. I do have to say that part of my critique of the show, (and I do have them), are the characters of John and Elizabeth. I agree with your view about her dancing on the piano as well as some of her other actions. As an author, her motivations are not clear to me. I am willing to wait to see more, but I have to admit, the week that they weren’t on was a strong week for me. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  11. I love the show–enough to upgrade my satellite TV programming package in order to get WGN. I’m fascinated by these complex characters and I truly appreciate the brave choices each of them has had to make. I like John and Elizabeth’s characters. So it was interesting to hear that you don’t care for them. Would love to hear why you don’t.

    • Hello Reese! Maybe we should chalk it up to the fact that I probably know too much about the 19th century and how abolitionists really were as people. John and Elizabeth are way too 21st century for my tastes. People who were against enslavement (Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe come to my mind) did not see the enslaved as equal human beings. Those were two different issues at the time and the show isn’t showing that. So their characters to me, without more motivation (which we may get soon), seem too out of step with historical time to me. There’s your explanation. Thank you for giving me the chance to show that I don’t believe the show to be perfect, as others may have thought. Thanks for stopping by!

  12. My husband and I have watched the first 7 episodes. We knew to set the dvr from your Facebook posts. It is very well done and brings about all the feelings about slavery, and how brave the people were who lived through it as well as the ones who faught to end it.

    Certain things are difficult to watch, but imagine how difficult it was for them. If they lived it, we can learn about it. We need to have this type of programming.

  13. Chattel slavery/Jim Crow are triggering to me. It really makes no difference how much agency or complexity the characters have, or whether the property was created from a black perspective (I only lasted 20 minutes for “The Color Purple.”) I have a very limited emotional/mental reserve for stories like that. I use entertainment to escape the pain of everyday life, not to immerse myself in pain that is x100 worse. On top of that, I don’t watch that much TV anyway.

    That’s not to say that I *never* consume historical fiction with Black people and enjoy it, but I have to be prepared for it. It’s not something where I can say, “Oh, I’m going to chill on my couch after work and watch this show every week.” I refuse to see “Twelve Years A Slave,” but I do plan to see “Birth of a Nation” and will probably watch the Roots reboot eventually, but those two will be watched veeeerry far apart from each other. Generally I decide whether or not I’m going to reserve energy for a media featuring slavery based on 1) my faith in the execution – do I think it will be done respectfully and masterfully? and 2) does it tell a story of slavery that I haven’t already heard? To my knowledge there hasn’t been a movie in America about a slave rebellion, let alone one created solely by Black Americans, so that’s why “Birth of a Nation” gets my interest. Roots I’m just interested in seeing because I never saw the original and it’s one of the best known works in the genre.

    I’ve heard rave reviews about “Underground” but promotion for it has been nonexistent, so there’s been nothing to convince me its worth the anxiety.

    • Sydnee,
      I completely appreciate your honesty here. Thank you. I think that Underground meets both of your criteria and you might want to save it for your lists in the future. Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

  14. I love this show. I encourage others to watch it. This really is a good show. I rush home on Wednesdays so that I can watch it. It allies us to see what our people went through and those willing to help.

  15. I wanted to also address your question about those who say they don’t like “slave movies.” I typically avoid movies dealing with slavery because I get heavily emotionally invested in the story. Quite frankly, it makes me bitter, angry and emotionally drained.

    The trailer for Underground was compelling because it portrayed the enslaved as smart, brave and complex. That drew me in. The casting of Aldis Hodge and Jurnee Smollett-Bell sealed it for me. I’m so glad I overcame my usual bias against stories dealing with slavery, because this show is absolutely brilliant at every level.

  16. Great article, Piper. I don’t think people are tired of watching slave movies, but many people would like to see a balance. Someone in a Black filmmakers group reminded us that there were free Blacks who had their own businesses, build their own schools, owned land, had wealth, power, and influence, primarily in the North. I am not a filmmaker but would like to see more of these type of movies made. There is always room for films like Underground, which I can’t get, but there is also room for other kinds of movies showing free Blacks and their contributions to this country.

  17. I’m not watching. I appreciate you keeping me in the loop with your commentary. I’ve been reading your thoughts. I trust your opinion and perspective, but I’m not going to watch. Others have commented that some issues are special trigger for us. I like to be challenged when I watch tv and movies and read books, but I am easily upset. We don’t all recover at the same speed when we watch traumatic events even in fictionalized settings. I also don’t watch The Wire, Oz, Game of Thrones, Schindler’s List, or any mob movies. Pretty sure none of my ancestors were in the mafia, but as soon as they take out a baseball bat or pliers I’m out. It took me about 10 years to recover from the movie American History X, because of one scene. Y’all know which scene I’m talk about. Same for Game of Thrones. I made it into the 2nd season and something so upsetting happened I will never go back. I’m an empath. It doesn’t mean I don’t think slave stories should be told. It means I know they aren’t for me. And how about some new stories? I’m done watching the old ones.

  18. I watched it until Episode 7. I’ve somewhat lost interest in the story. Kato, Noah, and Rosalie, Rosalie’s mom, the slave catchers, the slave harborers…. all of it has grown weary. I still dvr the show. Maybe I’ll binge watch the remainder of the season once it ends.

  19. I’ve become aware of this show through your posts and my answer to why I’m not watching is similar to some of the others except that instead of upset, what I get in these situations is largely impotent rage — the kind that results in my doing nothing but fuming and refusing to leave my house or speak to anyone for days on end. It gets where I just don’t even see the point in trying to fight the BS anymore and then it’s all downhill from there. If I’m ever going to accomplish anything at all useful to try to bring awareness to some of the issues we’ve discussed, I have to manage my own brain first. It’s a matter of taking it in doses. Underground is on my list to watch eventually, but I’m going to have to gear up for it and attempting it during an overwhelming spring semester during which I’m taking post-colonial lit and therefore already fighting the constant mads or an overwhelming summer semester, when I’m taking a class on stereotypes in film and TV and will be doing the same — just not a wise idea. As far as “slavery movies,” I don’t quite get the “tired” comment, simply because it doesn’t seem as though there have been enough to engender “tiredness,” but I do tend to avoid them because of PTSD and triggers unrelated (obviously) to slavery, but that tend to show up (for good historical reason) in media covering the period.

  20. My husband and I sat down to watch the first episode. We got about 7 minutes in and then looked at each other with the unspoken knowledge that neither of us wanted to continue. I try to support black media like this, but like others have mentioned, the discomfort level is just really high. I watch very little television, and when I do, inhuman horror is not something that I like using my very limited leisure time for. I hope the show succeeds. From what I saw, the production value was high and the actors seemed good. But reliving the horrors of slavery is not something I’m keen to do in my free time.

    • Thank you for contributing your perspective and for answering my question, Leslye. To me, Underground is about changing the focus. For so many years, the ones who have gotten to speak about history were the enslavers. I have long looked for, and have written, pieces that give the perspective and voice to the enslaved. Underground does that. It doesn’t do it with perfection, but it’s beginning to give people a new view of the humanity of the enslaved. I’m glad to have a chance to hear their voices and stories, which is why I watch. I don’t find it entertaining as much as I find it enlightening to learn about their struggles and strength. I appreciate that you stopped by.

  21. I love the show, not specifically because it deals with the issue of slavery (although I’ll talk about that in a minute), but because the strength of the characters is amazing. We see so many examples of courage, sensitivity, intelligence, complex thoughtfulness, and dedication that it’s impossible for me to dismiss anything about the show. It gives all of the elements of great writing and strong character development, and I relate to those in this show the same as I relate to them in books that I enjoy. It is true “storytelling” and not simple entertainment.

    As for the slavery issue, this “generation” needs to be reminded of what perseverance and triumph look like. I’m talking about the “us” who live today, not about a specific age group. We are stronger than our circumstances, smarter than our criticisms, braver than our challenges, and more determined than our discouragements. Many slaves tried to escape, not only because of the brutality of their circumstances, but because of their hope. Our history of being hopeful is something we can take pride in and hold on to when we feel beaten down by whatever burdens we carry today. Yes, it’s hard to watch the ugliness (which is tastefully watered down) — just as it’s hard to watch the youtube videos of young men and women being gunned down in the streets and beaten by police. Yes, we face cruelty today and connecting it to the fact that our struggles continue can be discouraging. After all, we’re tired of fighting the same fight, right? Yes, we face heartbreak, but I’m encouraged by our commitment to survival.

    The mother who would rather be caught so the slave-catcher could be delayed enough that her husband and daughter could escape touched me to my soul. How often do we say we would lie down our lives for our children? Yet, when we see such a sacrifice, the truth behind those words make us shy away. I don’t enjoy shows/movies about needless violence, but the issue of slavery doesn’t have to fall into that category. This show doesn’t. It transcends the obvious to remind me of where I came from, the intelligence and strength that lives inside me, and the unshakable optimism we held on to in spite of the horrible oppression. The issue of slavery is so much more than a story of oppression that I hope everyone finds some part of this series that speaks to them. These slaves are us. Their history is ours. Their dreams are the same that we embrace today — a better life where we have a measure of peace and control over our circumstances.

    Even writing this comment makes me emotional, but in a good way. I’m overwhelmed by the pride and admiration that comes with seeing how great our race truly is. They are me because we share a common ancestry whether I embrace it or not. I am them when I feel misunderstood and downtrodden. This well-written, sensitive, and courageous series brings joy that people can embrace if they’re willing to look past the surface.

  22. I am tired of trolls leaving negative comments on other people’s blogs. Piper, your tone was not accusatory at all to me. You simply asked a question. It’s offensive and rude in my opinion for someone else to come on your blog and blast you for your opinion. Haterism and ignorance is alive and well, especially on social media where people feel like they can bumrush someone else’s site. Thank goodness for your blog, Piper. And thank goodness you’re keeping us informed on historically critical shows like The Underground. I watch it every week, and I love it. Please keep sharing, and keep the awareness of diverse programming that highlights not only the plight of slaves, but those non-slaves caught up in the institution as well. What I love about this show is we get insight into all of the characters, even August, the slave catcher. These characters are far from one-dimensional. The writing is stellar, and each week I watch it, it hate that it has to end. I do hope WGN produces a second season. Also, Kudos to John Legend for being one of the executive producers. Smart decision.

    • Thank you for your defense, Chanta. I want for people to make comments and I approve what I get so that people might see I’m willing to show opposing views. I appreciate your kind comments about my blog and otherwise. I completely agree about the news on a second season. Thanks for posting about it and for stopping by!

  23. Pingback: My Take on Underground – Anne Westcarr

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