After four decades, Roots is still as pertinent as ever.
In 1977, the landmark ABC miniseries brought the horrors of American slavery to the forefront of pop culture and shattered ratings records in the process. Tracking the lives of enslaved protagonist Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton) and his family, the century-spanning drama was anchored by themes of identity, heritage and confronting one’s past in order to move forward — ideas revisited in History’s four-part remake, premiering Monday (9 ET/PT).
Burton, co-executive producer on the revival, says the timing of Roots’ return couldn’t be more appropriate. In the past year alone, movements such as Black Lives Matter and #OscarsSoWhite have rocked headlines, while topics of race and blackness continue to spill over into popular music from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar.
“We are clearly engaged in the conversation in America and it’s one where everybody needs to be involved,” says Burton, 59. “If you are living in America right now, then the story of slavery is relevant to you, because it’s shaped the country and the culture in which you live, whether you want to admit that or not.”
True Blood’s Anna Paquin, who appears in Roots’ fourth episode as a Confederate officer’s fiancé, echoes Burton’s sentiments.
“I can’t think of a time when this story wasn’t (relevant),” says Paquin, 33. “It’s really important, as a culture, not to forget the really ugly, dark period in history. Sometimes, the further you get away from it, the more people want to think it’s not relevant anymore, but that’s not true. People need to be reminded so that hopefully, we eventually do move forward as a species. I certainly don’t think we’re there yet.”
Based in part on Alex Haley’s 1976 novel, the four-night, eight-hour Roots remake stars newcomer Malachi Kirby as Kunta, an African warrior who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the United States in the late 1700s. Although he didn’t watch the original miniseries until his early 20s, when his mother gave him a DVD boxed set, Kirby says his introduction to the character came much earlier.
Where he grew up in the U.K., “it was a negative thing to be African,” says Kirby, 26. “I’m Jamaican, which is not quite African, but I was still black and called Kunta Kinte as a dis. That was my first acknowledgement of this story before I knew what it was.”
Source: USA Today | Patrick Ryan