Written by Sean Wall
Right off the bat there’s no reason to be mad at the way this mini-series was handled as it captures a cultural era in which human beings were extremely demoralized by others who looked at them as property. You can’t argue that the era of Slavery wasn’t the darkest period in American history; it still is to this day. However, in 1977 when ABC miniseries ‘Roots’ was released it was a surprise and a shock to people in the United States had never seen something so eye-opening explicit on network television. It became a phenomenon racking up ratings and captivating the evils of slavery that you had to watch it. Fast forward to 2016 and the story that brought about “must-see television has been remade while still based on Alex Haley’s researched novel. It’s a four-night production that aired on three networks—History, A&E, and Lifetime, the first episode debuted during Memorial Day night.
For those unfamiliar with Roots, the story follows Kunta Kinte’s capture and enslavement, his perilous journey to America on a slave ship, and his life on a Southern plantation, where he’s renamed, Toby. There’s a lot of emphasis on Kinte’s rebellious nature and strength of character that leads to many generations of his family whose descendants include Emayatzy Corinealdi as his wife Belle, Anika Noni Rose as daughter Kizzy, a Kizzy’s son, Chicken George, played by Rege-Jean Page. As for the new miniseries, the production gives the 1977 story and even broad elaborate advantage for special effects by producer Mark Wolper, son of the original Roots producer David Wolper.
Each of the four nights of the new Roots was overseen by a different, prominent director — Thomas Carter, Mario Van Peebles, Philip Noyce, and Bruce Beresford — but the miniseries coheres as a unified whole, and gains an urgency in the era of Black Lives Matter.
In the first night and last night, you see the characterization as agonizingly vivid. Especially during the Kinte’s first night as he journeys from Africa to America in the hold of a slave ship. Forest Whitaker’s Fiddler and Page’s Chicken George is compelling nevertheless as they drive the story’s along with their own backstories.
By Night 2, the year where America began to fight for its independence in 1775 against the British rule (Redcoats) arrived. Night 3, George is sold to a new owner in England, only to return in Night 4 with his freedom, but fights in the Civil War. Haley who is believed to be the seventh-generation descendant of Kunta Kinte appears in the finale with Lauren Fishburne, who also narrates the story.
The huge cast also includes Chad L. Colman as Mingo (Night 3); Tip “T.I.” Harris as Cyrus (Night 4); and Mekhi Phifer as Jerusalem (Night 4). Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anna Pacquin, James Purefoy and Matthew Goode also star, although the white characters rarely get their own stories.
As the race has become a forefront issue as the days go by, “Roots” can truly drive the emotional and impactful message across America like the original “Roots” did in 1977. Throughout this miniseries, you’re engulfed by entertainment and a story that has drama, romance, and a relatable story for many descendants of slaves that will answer some questions. The performances make the horror of slavery vividly painful and uplifting to fight back for a tale that will leave you a deeper message than ever before.
Roots will air Monday through Thursday @ 9pm on History, A&E, and Lifetime,