Roots: Reimagined, and still controversial

Collection Black + On Screen

Last week the retelling of Alex Haley's 1977 “Roots” mini-series aired simultaneously on History, A&E and Lifetime. There was mixed reaction even before the series premiered. I noticed that most people were either excited about watching it, against watching it due to “slavery fatigue” or simply were too attached to the original Roots.

I fell in the “excited to watch” crowd.

I tuned in with my 13 year old each night and had great conversation with her over what she felt. In all, 47Roots48 It’s no secret that although the original Roots earned 37 Emmy nominations and broke records with its 130 million viewers, that many of today’s youth had never seen the movie.

The day after the premiere, I came across a video from Snoop Dogg saying that Hollywood is only too happy to tell our stories if it includes slavery. “I don’t understand America, they just want to keep showing abuse that we took hundred and hundreds of years ago…. When are ya’ll gonna make a series about the success that black folks is having?” Many people agreed with him. Personally, while watching the video all I could think about was…this is SNOOP DOGG. Whose contribution to the Black experience is getting high and having women shake their behinds on music videos. Why in the hell would I listen to him when deciding what is worthy of watching on TV? What a joke.  See Roland Martin's response below, it pretty much sums up ALLLL of my feelings.

However, I know that some people simply weren’t in the right headspace to watch it. It brings up serious emotion, deep scars and hurt that you may not even be aware. There were times that I had to look away. There were times that my heart was heavy, but yet I was so proud of what our ancestors endured. There were lines within that movie that I could feel myself embrace and rise up. I don’t know any other film that has hurt me to my core or made me so proud to be who I was at the same time.

In this Roots, we were able to get a deeper view of the interior of the lives of the slaves. It has been several years since I’d watched Roots, so getting a better understanding of how Kunta Kinte lived in Juffure was lovely. Forest Whitaker’s “Fiddler” made me want to shout (but Forest Whitaker turns any role into nothing less than amazing). Seeing a glimpse of LeVar Burton brought an immediate smile in a very small but notable moment of him passing the figurative torch to Malachi Kirby, who brought Kunta Kinte to life in the new series.

From being born in Africa, torn from his home, through several generations in America the retelling of Roots will not replace the original. It can’t, but it can introduce this beautiful story, mixed with fact and fiction, to an entire new generation. Seeing the added bits of life, culture and ideas in the new series reveals the new level of consciousness that America has gained, even in the last 40 years.

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