Over on Civil War Pop, Christian McWhirter finally chimes in on WGN’s Underground and he does so by praising the TV show’s main female protagonist, the character Rosalee (portrayed by actress Jurnee Smollett-Bell). I think his observations are dead on, yet there is another female character on the show that is an even better depiction of female slave power—Rosalee’s mother Ernestine (actress Amirah Vann). As of now (5 episodes in), she has proven to be the show’s most cunning and resourceful character, wielding considerable power to control her environment and life. Her actions at the end of the 5th episode were difficult to swallow, but no one can deny that this character is a formidable survivor that makes her own rules and manipulates things to her and her children’s advantages. Have we ever seen a slave character like this one, much less a woman? Kizzy in Roots (herself a powerful survivor) pales in comparison to Ernestine, and the fact that the character inspired an essay like this one from TV critic/writer Shannon M. Houston is a perfect example of why, as Christian put it, slave fiction needs these type of characters.
Further, I have been following the Underground’s official Twitter feed, and the comments and emotions this show is stirring up from audiences is also demonstrating how it challenges engrained perceptions of the Antebellum enslaved community in ways that has its audience excited and thrilled. Their reactions are even more proof of how much we need this show.