Before the TV remake of the Roots miniseries premieres Memorial Day weekend, Anika Noni Rose weighed in on why narratives of enslaved people are so important, as original star LeVar Burton opened up about the impact of the show and being a Black man in America.
Rose spoke with friend and actor Colman Domingo on AOL Build about the importance of a story like Roots being retold, along with others like it.
“I am of the opinion that this story and others of its ilk should be told with regularity,” Rose told Domingo. “It is the base of the heritage of who we are as Americans. And it is the truth, which is very uncomfortable, of what is America’s second Holocaust right here on our shores. I think it should be told as often as we hear about the Jewish Holocaust.”
She continued, saying there is a need to tell gruesome stories that expose the horrors of America’s past just as much as the upbeat, celebratory tales are told.
“I think we should hear more about the parts of America, the parts of our history that aren’t quite comfortable,” Rose said. “Because it really is what makes us the group of people that we are in here today, in so many varied shapes and sizes and hues. That’s what makes America. So we have to tell those stories, just like we tell the fun, rah-rah, you know, fireworking, home of the brave and the land of the free and all of that. We have to tell some truth.”
Though Rose said she was initially unsure about taking the role of matriarch Kizzy because of the possibility that the series was “the jump on the bandwagon of the so-called ‘slave story, ‘ ” – a term she hates – LeVar Burton told People that executive producer Mark Wolper needed to make it for his son.
“He told me about trying to show [the original] to his son and he wouldn’t sit still for it. Mark was like ‘Wow, this is such an important piece of our culture. In order to share it successfully with my children I gotta remake it.’ I understood immediately.”
Burton starred in the original Roots in 1977 and played a young Kunta Kinte. He serves as an executive producer in the remake and notes he is “acutely aware of the social implications this time around.”
He says at a time when police brutality and unarmed Black men and women are killed at the hands of police, he takes extra precautions if stopped by law enforcement.
“I roll down my window, take my hands and put them on the door of the car, because I want that approaching officer to be as relaxed and comfortable as he can be.”
Burton taught his son to do the same thing.
“It’s a survival skill. Being a Black man in America is still a dangerous experience. That’s simply a reality.”
Though he does not believe Roots will have as big of an impact today as it did nearly 40 years ago, Burton hopes the “opportunity” will “create a conversation about race that is absent fear, anger, guilt and shame, and just deal honestly with what continues to hold us back.”
Roots premieres on the History Channel May 30 at 9 p.m. Eastern.