When I first heard they were remaking Roots, I was skeptical. I thought, “Some movies do not need to be remade.” I admit, I was looking on the physical and thinking, “Maybe it won’t be as powerful as the first.” But after watching it I must say it remains one of the most powerful series on TV, followed by Underground. But first, here’s a little History:
What is Roots?
Roots: The Saga of an American Family is a book published by Alex Haley in 1976 with a miniseries of the book that first premiered on television in 1977. During this post-civil rights era the show is about the ancestors of Alex Haley, particularly Kunta Kinte, who was kidnapped from his life in Africa and sold as a slave on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The Show was put out in a series of eight episodes to try and get it out the way as the networks didn’t think it would do well. However, the show proved them wrong, airing over the course of eight days and helping to galvanize a nation. See, to understand why Roots the remake is important in this day and time is to understand the history behind it and what it did to America. The TV series led to a renewed interest in genealogy from blacks who, due to slavery, felt robbed of their identity and cultural heritage:
If you weren’t there—if you’ve only known television in its post-Big Three networks era—it’s hard to understand the impact of the original Roots. Based on Alex Haley’s book of “faction,” the ABC miniseries’ 12 hours (with commercials) were spread across eight consecutive nights in January 1977, an unprecedented programming move that consolidated the show’s status as an event. The subsequent audience ratings were also unprecedented: 85% of television households, or 130 to 140 million Americans (more than half the U.S. population) saw at least part of the series; an estimated 100 million viewers tuned in for the two-hour finale on Sunday, January 30. – http://www.biography.com/news/alex-haley-roots-tv-show
1. Our Culture
In the remake, the ancient culture of the African American was well represented. For centuries we’ve been taught that we were animals running around naked with large hoops in our ears and swinging from trees. Taught that we were just Africans. While no TV show has gone as deep as to proclaim the unadulterated truth concerning our roots (not even Roots), I did enjoy the pieces of it sprinkled in the opening village scenes in the beginning because its an accurate portrayal of some of our culture. I loved that they showed the ancient garments, the head wraps and the midwives. Even the spreading of the palms to the heavens to pray. This is what we did and how we did it.
By the time Kunta was on the slave ships he’s naked. Now we’ve seen this before in other shows but what does it mean? This is highly significant of being stripped of your entire way of life. Gone is the beautiful blue garb, gone is the honor and the esteem, gone is the culture, and gone is the name that defines who you are.
I don’t want yall to sleep on the name part. Kizzy told Chicken George, “Your name is who you are. My daddy took beatings to protect his name”. Very powerful. People like to take names for granted. Often we look at them and they don’t hold any real significance but names are very important. Take away a persons name and you strip their entire identity. Your name is your character, and your persona. Your name is who you are. When we were stripped of our name, we were stripped of everything.
4. Biblical Insight
One of my most favorite scenes is when Chicken George introduced his mother Kizzy to his future wife and father in law and she said to him: “Massa don’t want you teaching about Exodus. About how the children of Israel walked across the red sea to freedom. He tore that right out the book.” Very powerful scene. Why? Because its the whole reason we weren’t allowed to read and write. Massa just didn’t say you couldn’t read because he thought you were an animal, an inhumane being. That’s only part of it. He didn’t want you to read because he didn’t want you to read the bible. Now why is that? Because the bible is black history.
5. Whites Persecuted
Another powerful thing this show portrayed is the persecution of Europeans who help blacks. This is also something they showed in Underground and I think its something that African Americans cannot sleep on. There are, and have always been, those of other nationalities who were wiling to help blacks to their deaths. Blacks were not the only ones lynched and maimed and murdered but also those who helped them.
6. Less is More
I didn’t like that they cut the series in half. I think it was too short. I also found it funny initially that Kunta’s character wasn’t switched out like in the first one so he looked the same throughout the series. However, I noticed that instead of going verbatim to the original they filled in those parts of the story that were missing from the first part. This was smart I think of the directors because this version has its own original feel. I thought this new Roots wasn’t going to be good compared to the first one but in truth they each are separate shows. While they tell the same story, the new Roots has a modern feel to it. Lawrence Fishburne, T.I. and Mekhi Phifer make their appearance and Kunta is a beast!
7. Now or Then?
I don’t think the new roots can compare to the original. I also do not think the original could speak to today’s youth like the new one. I don’t think one is better over the other. To me that’s irrelevant. What is relevant is the resurrection of a thirst for that lost history among a group of people today so far removed from their Roots.