The Underground Railroad Cast Explores the Meaning of Freedom

What does it mean to be free?

While some might take their freedoms for granted, The Underground Railroad—a 10-part Amazon series directed by Academy Award-winning director Barry Jenkins and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Colson Whitehead—reminds us of a time when Black people were considered three-fifths of a human being.


The period series is not for the faint of heart. It takes audiences back to the antebellum South, when Black people were subjugated, and follows the harrowing journey of an enslaved Black woman, Cora (portrayed by South African actor Thuso Mbedu). The series also includes William Jackson Harper, who plays a free Black man, Royal; theater actor Aaron Pierre as Caesar, an enslaved man; and Sheila Atim, a Ugandan-born British actor who portrays Cora’s mother, a midwife named Mabel.

These actors absolutely become these characters, and as themes of Black survival and Black liberation are prominent in The Underground Railroad, The Root asked the series cast to explore the meaning of freedom. 


“I think freedom is just that,” William Jackson Harper said. “It’s freedom to do what you want to do, but it also comes with a great amount of responsibility.”

“Freedom is the opportunity to be able to experience everything that it means to be a human being; to be able to experience the full spectrum and range of emotions and experiences,” said Sheila Atim.

Actor Aaron Pierre said “Freedom is the ability to just be. And exist.”

The Amazon Original limited series The Underground Railroad will debut all 10 episodes on Friday, May 14. But if you absolutely can’t wait until Friday, Amazon Prime Video, will host an advanced virtual screening on Thursday, May 13 at 7 p.m. ET and includes a Q&A session following screening.

Afro-Cuban woman that was born and branded in New York. When León isn't actually creating cool videos, she's thinking of cool videos that she can create.