William Jackson Harper on the importance of showing the enduring pain of slavery

As Royal, a free activist living in Indiana, William Jackson Harper serves as a ray of optimism in Amazon Prime Video’s new series The Underground Railroad, set during a mythical 1800s. Royal is living, working, and getting rich on a farm owned by free Black people, and he’s convinced that good will win out eventually, the hard work of Black people will finally be recognized, slavery will end, and he and Thuso Mbedu’s Cora can live together forever. The A.V. Club talked with Harper about the pain The Underground Railroad both elicits and contains and why he thinks it’s artistically essential. He also discussed why he thinks there’s no national memorial for those held in slavery and the enduring myth of America’s bootstrapping origin story.

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