Roots was a landmark television miniseries during the 1970s. Featuring an ensemble cast of the most important Black actors at the time, it proved to be a watershed moment in entertainment history. Roots premiered at an important interval for Blacks in America: it aired in the immediate aftermath of the civil rights movement, but it also aired at a time when Black power became more prevalent. Roots author Alex Haley’s mix of fiction, and self proclaimed research into his ancestry made other Black people curious about their origins. His generational tale of Kunta Kinte and his descendants drew in millions. Now, Roots is being revisited.
Laurence Fishburne has been cast as Alex Haley in the A&E Networks’ remake due in 2016. Fishburne is the first person to join the cast; his presence bodes well for the project’s trajectory. In demand film producer Will Packer (Think Like A Man, Ride Along) is on board the creative team along with the original Kunta Kinte, LeVar Burton, as executive producers. All three A&E Networks subsidiaries, the History Channel, A&E, and Lifetime, will simulcast the miniseries. This is the similar approach the network took with its other critically acclaimed, and highly rated miniseries, Bonnie and Clyde in 2013. The original show’s finale still ranks among the highest rated television shows of all time. The time is ripe for a deeper look.
Haley’s legitimacy took a hit for his “creative” ad-libbing while writing Roots. With more detailed research and information, a story with greater impact can be told. Even with his admitted fallacy, it does little to take away the visceral tremors of reaction the show created with aftershocks still registering today. The mere mention of Roots brings about pop culture jokes about Chicken George, Kunta Kinte’s foot, and Kunta’s refusal of the name “Toby.” However, there’s an entire generation that only has these references to hold onto. Miniseries are trending right now, gaining increasing traction with television audiences. BET garnered good notices for The Book of Negroes, which received two Critics’ Choice Television Awards nominations. Roots is also a brand: television executives pine for any programming that’s guaranteed to grab a specific demographic. This version of Roots has the earmarks to be even bigger than its predecessor.