John Legend Is Frederick Douglass in ‘Underground’

Somehow, in between raising his infant daughter Luna, preparing a tour for his recent album Darkness and Light, and riding along on the awards-season tour as a costar of La La Land, John Legend still found time to make history. The executive producer of WGN America’s Underground, the story of fugitive slaves fighting for freedom in the years before the Civil War, will make an onscreen appearance as none other than the legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

The social reformer’s role on the show (get your first look in the photo below) is not as large as fellow revolutionaries like Harriet Tubman (Aisha Hinds), but his brief appearance in the episode airing April 5 gives Underground’s heroes a taste of hard-won wisdom.

In addition to being an escaped slave, Douglass was one of the most photographed men of the 19th century – which, happily, gave Legend plenty of visual cues to draw upon and also tied into Douglass’ advice for fellow fugitives. He understood the importance of strategy, Legend says. He understood the power of image and of story to humanize the slaves and to show how evil the institution was. If it weren’t for him showing the human worth of slaves, we might not have seen abolition happen when it did.

Underground feels particularly relevant to the modern moment, thanks in part to its use of contemporary music by artists like Kanye West, but even Douglass himself has unexpectedly been in the news lately, via President Donald Trump’s puzzling comments at the beginning of Black History Month (oddly, he said that Douglass is somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more). Though Legend chuckles at the president’s confounding pronouncement, he agrees that modern Americans still have a lot to glean from Douglass.

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Source: Entertainment Weekly | Christian Holub

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