Rosalee & Ernestine's Relationship On 'Underground' Represents An Important Legacy, According To Amirah Vann
WGN America's latest drama series is full of adventure, the multitudes of character dynamics make even the quieter scenes just as compelling. For instance, I'm so interested in the mother/daughter relationship between Rosalee and Ernestine on Underground. While the series is set in the Antebellum South with often horrific circumstances, their dynamic may be recognizable to parents and children today. According to Amirah Vann, who plays Ernestine, their relationship is integral to the message of the series.
Regardless of how you want to be different, that's the legacy. [Rosalee] still comes from a legacy of survivors. I think that's what the whole story is telling. Her mama is not just someone who is like 'oh yeah, I'm just gonna take it and sit here.' She fought in the way that she could. And so she's the next generation of saying 'OK, I'm gonna take that and I'm gonna take it even farther in terms of what it means to survive and what it means to live.'
On the surface, you would think that Rosalee and Ernestine are fairly different. Rosalee dreams of a different life, and Ernestine has worked to maintain a life for her and her children. However, as the series goes on, their similarities become more and more apparent. In separate episodes, both Rosalee and Ernestine express the same complaint about working in the house versus the field — it may be more comfortable, but they are unable to really be themselves.
"Like any mother/daughter relationship that's the goal," says Vann, "that hopefully at one point you kinda can see eye to eye." As an audience member, she is certainly proud of her TV daughter. "To see her journey and to see her progress, I feel like she comes to a wisdom all her own and I couldn't help but feel that natural feeling of pride — that your child even went beyond thoughts that you had and can teach you something. I think that's really fantastic."
Everything Ernestine does is about protection and putting others before herself. Even her relationship with Tom Macon is not one of secret passion, it's a necessity. "It's about survival," Vann says of the reveal in the second episode. "It's about power and positioning yourself in a position of power ... and we'll see what happens if we ever get any kind of backstory, but in that moment you know when we see her take some power, that's what it's about. It's about her children. That's her primary motivation and it's the sacrifices that our mothers had to make at that time to try to ensure some sort of semblance of peace and security for their children."
However, now that Rosalee has run, will she and her mother ever be able to reconcile? Perhaps she will take on a leadership role in the group of runaways just like Ernestine has done on the plantation. As Vann points out, the show moves so quickly especially once Rosalee and Noah leave. Plus, similarities aside, I don't even know that the stress of losing your child in such a high stakes situation would make that possible.
"I'm not sure how quickly Miss Ernestine can get [to an understanding]. I'm not sure she even gets there at the end of Season 1. This is not even without me wanting to give a spoiler. This is just the truth of life ... But I would hope that at one point they would be able to look at each other and daughter would understand mom and mom would understand her daughter's desire for living and to be seen as a human being and not just survive."
Images: WGN America