Roots 2016 — Remake of the Classic Series Based on Alex Haley’s Book

Posted on May 25, 2016 at 3:03 pm

The 1977 television miniseries Roots, based on the book by Alex Haley, was one of the foremost cultural events of the decade, watched by millions and discussed by everyone. It followed the story of Haley’s family from the capture of his African ancestor, Kunta Kinte (Levar Burton), who was enslaved and brutally abused. For generations, the family struggles to stay together and to hold onto their culture and history.

A remake of the series begins on May 30, 2016, on the History Channel, and also on Lifetime and A&E. Levar Burton is one of the producers. The cast includes Forest Whitaker as Fiddler, Anna Paquin as Nancy Holt, Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Tom Lea, Anika Noni Rose as Kizzy, Tip “T.I.” Harris as Cyrus, Emayatzy Corinealdi as Belle, Matthew Goode as Dr. William Waller, Mekhi Phifer as Jerusalem, James Purefoy as John Waller, Laurence Fishburne as Alex Haley, and newcomers Regé-Jean Page as Chicken George and Malachi Kirby as Kunta Kinte.

According to the New York Times,

“I think we also think more in terms of the social violence of being separated from your entire genealogy in Africa.”

That is a rift “Roots” tries to highlight, with a new understanding about the real Kunta Kinte, now said to be an educated young man from a prominent, well-to-do family, who lived not in a remote village (as depicted in the 1977 version) but on the shore of a bustling trading post. “He spoke probably four languages,” Mr. Wolper said.

His characterization changed, too: While Mr. Burton’s is a headstrong naïf, the new Kunta is “a little tougher, a little edgier,” Mr. Wolper said, in what he hoped would be a more contemporary spin. Though one of the iconic images of the original was Mr. Burton in shackles, in promotions for this one — “focused thematically more on defiance, resistance and the ability to overcome the shackles of the body,” Mr. Wolper said — Kunta Kinte is shown breaking through his chains.

The new series reflects changes in culture and understanding since 1977, and, like the original, has some important context for contemporary conflicts. The older series is dated in terms of production values and perspective, but it is well worth re-visiting, in part to better understand what has and has not changed.
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Based on a book Based on a true story Epic/Historical Remake Television