Last night the much-anticipated remake of Roots premiered on The History Channel. It’s been almost 40 years since the original mini-series debuted on American television. At the time it was ground-breaking and 36 million households tuned in to the most-watched miniseries in history (it beat 1976’s Gone with the Wind). As 80s babies we’ve never seen the original but The History Channel’s version seems to have the same effect as the original: shock and sorrow.
The original mini-series is based on Roots: The Saga of an American Family, a novel by Alex Haley about Kunta Kinte, an African man sold into slavery in the United States in the 18th century. In part one of the 2016 remake we see how Kinte was captured and his painful journey to America. Played by Malachi Kirby, Kinte is a strong character whose will keeps him from giving up and accepting his new circumstances. Kirby does an excellent job of portraying Kinte’s determination to fight not only for himself, but for his people as well.
For modern audiences it’s a poignant reminder of what black people in America had to endure until just over 100 years ago and it comes at an important time, when we have a man who says things like “laziness is a trait in blacks” running for president. Not everyone sees the remake as a good thing though.
“How the f*ck they gonna put Roots on on Memorial Day? They gonna just keep beating that sh*t in our heads of how they did us, huh? I don’t understand America. They just want to keep showing the abuse that we took hundreds and hundreds of years ago. But, guess what? We taking the same abuse,” Snoop Dogg said in a video on Instagram.
“When you all going to make a motherf*cking series about the success black folks is having? The only success we have is Roots and 12 Years a Slave and sh*t like that, huh? F*ck ya’ll. I ain’t watching that sh*t. F*ck them television shows. Let’s create our own sh*t based on today, how we live, and how we inspire people today.”
The lack of diversity in movies and on TV is a serious problem (only about a quarter of of the top grossing films in 2014 featured people of colour, for example) and the criticism that black people only win awards for playing slaves or other racial stereotypes has been made before.
Other celebrities see the series as a necessary reminder of the not-so-distant past.
I love that in this retelling of the #ROOTS story we get to see how rich the African heritage was. We see all that they we were taken from.
— yvette nicole brown (@YNB) May 31, 2016
#Roots is not just a Slave movie. Its a reminder of how important it is to understand the psychology that divided us & how not to repeat it.
— Jack A. Daniels (@jackAdaniels) May 31, 2016
Part two airs tonight at 9 p.m. ET on History, A&E, and Lifetime.