This week’s episode of “Underground” focused solely on Harriet Tubman, played by Aisha Hinds, as she gives a speech to a group of white abolitionists. Series executive producer Anthony Hemingway explained to Variety the creative decision behind the episode, which takes place almost entirely in one location with Hinds having the overwhelming majority of the lines.
“In doing the research, [Misha Green] and [Joe Pokaski] found that in the 1850’s Harriet Tubman was actually doing public speaking,” said Hemingway, who also directed this episode. “That was how they found her way in. They said, ‘Harriet Tubman is going to do a TED Talk!’ Of course we label it and hashtag it ‘TUB Talk.’ It was fun to learn that at at time when she was being sought and hunted, she was willing to give and share and risk her life to do this public speaking in front of like-minded people to encourage them to keep fighting for the cause.”
Hemingway also said that Green and Pokaski had been looking for a chance to do an episode all about Tubman since before production began on Season 2 of the WGN America drama series. “We all talked about it at the beginning of the season, but once you really start to do it you have to say, ‘Now this is serious,”‘ he said. “You can’t tell this story without giving the right capacity and space to honor and respect the legacy and the heroics of Harriet Tubman. They really wanted to give her this platform that was very much like going to the theater and having her be on stage and come at it from an unusual approach.”
Hemingway also had nothing but praise for Hinds , who joined the show as the legendary Underground Railroad conductor this season. “We shot this episode in three days, and Aisha only had the script a week beforehand, which is a testament at how well she was a vessel for Harriet to really tell this story,” he said. “Aisha really understood the responsibility that was necessary and what it meant to really take on this call to duty. She excellently and exceptionally championed it and took it on. She evoked such a chilling performance. She and I have been friends outside of just working together for a long time. During casting when I was coming to find who Harriet was, she was the first person in my mind.”