On ROOTS Reimagined and Retelling This Classic Story
When I first heard that they wanted to remake ROOTS, I legit was like “Bhet why?” The mini-series from 1977, based on Alex Haley‘s book of the same name is one of those classics that everyone knows about even if they haven’t seen. Why touch it? Why do we need to see a new version of the harrowing tale of Kunta Kinte, a Mandinka warrior, stolen and sold into slavery? It was the role that catapulted LeVar Burton into stardom, and it is so strongly HIS that why would they even try to re-do it?
Fun fact: that was LeVar’s first ever audition. If you wanna talk about being where you are destined to be in, that’s an example.
Those were my questions when the ROOTS team reached out to me. I was hella skeptical. And then they told me why they were re-imagining (not remaking) ROOTS. It turns out that most millennials (people under 35) have never seen the original ROOTS. We’ve seen clips of the “What’s your name? KUNTA.” scene, but many of us have never sat down to watch it. Me included.
So they sent me a screener of the first episode of ROOTS Reimagined. Y’all. Y’ALL. I watched it and when it ended, I felt trapped in a glass case of emotions. I felt anger that was visceral. I felt proud, from the resilience of my people. And I felt more than ever that this was necessary. This is a time when this conversation can be really productive.
I agreed to partner with the History Channel and A+E on this to spread the word because what they’ve done here is fantastic. They put my skepticism to bed after seeing that episode, and the care they took to tell a story that was layered, as complete as it could be, but also relevant to the pace we absorb things in now.
Episode one spends a lot of time in Africa, where we learn who Kunta Kinte was, who he came from and how he came to be who he was before he was stolen from his home to become a slave in the United States.
We see the power that has been infused in him, allowing him to bend but not break. That is what gave me the pride in the midst of the anger of seeing people being treated like cattle, branded and beaten. There were times I had to take my eyes away from the screen, because it was TOO real. There were times when tears fell from my eyes before I even realized they were there. It did not spare us from the ugliness of what happened to Kunta and other Black people but it also gave us the beauty they had before they were torn away to come to this land.
ROOTS stars Malachi Kirby, who is about to bust out the gates and be considered a strong part of Hollywood’s next generation. He is phenomenal as Kunta Kinte. He might be unknown, but that is changing right now. Last week, I was at the White House with the ROOTS crew, speaking on a panel where we talked about “Your Name is Your Shield: How People Today Are Finding Their Roots.” I’ve written About Yoruba Names and their Meanings and how our monikers are the dreams our parents have for us and the circumstances of our births. The conversation we had explored that and how these names define who we are (Kunta/Toby).
Afterwards, they screened the first episode for everyone who was there. I was backstage with the cast, and when the closing credits rolled and lights came on, LeVar Burton, who serves as Executive Producer, was in tears. He was so proud to see this story, and the scene we are left in is THE defining moment for Kunta. He hugged Malachi and that had me in my feels. He passed the torch.
So yeah. ROOTS kicks off next week on Memorial Day (May 30), with a 2-hour premiere episode at 8pm CT. It will then continue every evening at the same time (for 1 hour), wrapping on Thursday night. Get this: it will be playing on the History Channel, A+E and Lifetime at the same time, so this ain’t no game. Instead of the 12-hour ROOTS we had before, this is 6 hours.
Anywho, join me on the Twitters on Memorial Day at 8pm CT/9pm ET, as I watch and live-tweets ROOTS! Follow me @Luvvie. And afterwards, I’ll jump on Periscope to recap it and debrief so we can all woo-sah together. My Periscope is at: http://periscope.tv/Luvvie, so even if you don’t have an account, you can watch from your browser. The Twitter account for the mini-series is @ROOTSseries so you can follow them too.
I am asking my white friends to also watch this mini-series, possibly with your kids too. The trans-atlantic slave trade is not just Black history. We didn’t do it to ourselves. This is also part of YOUR history, as well, as your ancestors were the ones who were on the other side. This conversation with your children will be uncomfortable, but it is one that they can handle. Black folks had to have these talks with our kids since they were young, so TRUST, yours can deal too. They need to know the truth in the legacy of slavery and the lingering effects. They need to know that this happened.
Our trauma isn’t an inconvenience but a tangible remnant of what happened across those oceans and on this soil. Protecting them from this is to sit in the privilege of being able to afford not knowing. Make this a family event. History Channel even created a family viewing guide to help give you some ideas on how to decompress afterwards, and answer some tough questions. Teachers, there’s classroom resources for you too.
Part of Kunta’s identity was how much his name mattered to him. You can show that Your Name is Your Shield through the app that History has.
Let’s get uncomfortable. Let’s have the conversations that need to be had.
What I’ve seen so far? It’s good, y’all. I was so nervous at first but this was well done and they took it very seriously. In fact, the son of the original producer is the one who is producing this one. I spoke with members of their team and from the top down, they were like “we knew we couldn’t mess this up.” I know people are often like “why do we always have to tell slavery stories?” But think about it. How many in 35 years have there really been? The problem is the lack of OTHER stories, not in the telling of the ones of the legacy of slavery. I really hope folks tune in.
Oh and I got a picture with LeVar Burton at the White House. After my panel, he told me “you’re incredible.” So basically, I can steal away to Jesus now. Anywho, here’s our picture. BECAUSE LEVAR BURTON, SON!!!
And he happens to be one of the sweetest celebs I’ve ever met. His spirit is pure light. I even gave him my book and he took a picture with it, where he nailed the look of my side-eye lollipop. It was PEAK awesome!
Disclosure: Compensation was provided for this post by A+E Studios but as always, all opinions, thoughts, side-eye and whatnot are all mine. I keep it 100 always.