By Cindy Barrymore
On March 8, 2017, Jurnee Smollett-Bell returns for season two of WGN America’s slave narrative Underground.
The former child actor (from the movie Eve’s Bayou) portrays shy houseslave-turned-firebrand abolitionist Rosalee, who is the daughter of white plantation owner and his head house slave Ernestine. With the help of her lover Noah and four other runaway slaves, Rosalee reaches freedom in the first season, but decides to return to the South to rescue other slaves telling an acquaintance, “We ain’t free till we all free.” She enlists the help of Harriett Tubman.
Smollett-Bell, the younger sister of Jussie Smollett on Fox television’s Empire, recently visited Chicago to promote and screen the season-two premiere, as well as take part in a Q&A moderated by Kyra Kyles.
“Underground” underscores the role black people played in their own emancipation, Kyles said. For her part, Smollett-Bell continues to conduct historical research as her character Rosalee evolves. Beginning he research with the book, “Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember: An Oral History,” she told the audience of about 200 viewers how enthralling she found the first-person slave account. Despite slavery ending in the 18th century their harrowing stories “came alive.”
Especially surprising to Smollett-Bell in her research was the slaves’ ingenuity. In an age where we’re currently reliant on technology, slaves used “their instinct and their knowledge of the land and stars … to navigate the Underground Railroad” despite being denied a formal education.