During our recent webcam chat (watch above), “Underground” executive producer Akiva Goldsman reveals the show was “profoundly important to me because my own background is unique.” His parents founded one of the first group homes for emotionally disturbed children. “As a result of there being so many children diagnosed with schizophrenia and childhood autism in my household, I was not raised by my mother,” he explains. “I was raised by someone from Brownsville, VA, who took me in when I was seven-days-old. Our skin colors were not the same.” Because of this, he feels, “I learned the definition of love before I learned to understand the definition of color.”
His hit WGN America series explores the beginnings of the underground railroad in a fresh and vibrant way. “First and foremost, it’s really entertaining,” Goldsman declares. “There’s a genre lens through which material that is not typically perceived as anything but horrific is viewed. All the episodes are built to subvert your expectations.” And he believes the show comes at a crucial time for the country. “I think we are in a moment where America is finally realizing that all our heroes are not white men, and ‘Underground’ is a view to the diversity of the history that lead up to where we stand today.”
“What’s paradoxical is these men and women are literally the definition of American heroes,” he adds, “but because their skin was a different color, they are left out of the pantheon of that which our country is built on. It’s crazy, because not only do young black men and women, but young white men and women, and young Hispanic men and women, all need these unbelievable courageous people to be part of their tradition.”
Goldsman recognizes the importance of having a show like “Underground” on television. “Even though we’ve made tremendous strides in terms of the pallet of our country,” he explains, “and the pallet of our entertainment, our enlightenment seems to have dwindled. So for me, it mattered really tremendously, and it was a rare chance to speak to issues that I don’t typically get to speak to. I am an outsider to these issues, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter to me, and here was a chance to be part of a conversation I really wanted to be apart of.”
He won an Oscar back in 2001 for writing the Best Picture winner “A Beautiful Mind.” As he recalls, “It was really lovely. There are very few finish lines in our business, so to cross one for something that meant so much to me and that mattered so much to me as a piece of work was delightful. And you’ll always know how your obituary will begin.”
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