Back in 1977, ABC-TV aired the Roots miniseries. “With 100 million viewers, the finale still ranks as the third-highest-rated U.S. entertainment program ever measured by Nielsen…” “…the series engendered a national conversation about the legacy of slavery. [Mark] Wolper, whose father, David, was Roots’ executive producer and owned the rights, thanks his teenage son for motivating him to reinvent [Alex] Haley’s story. ‘After he watched the miniseries, my son said, Dad, I understand it’s important, but like your music, it doesn’t speak to me’” (Rudolph 25-26).
Beginning on Memorial Day (Monday, May 30) and continuing over four consecutive nights, the History Channel, A&E, and Lifetime will be airing the retelling of Alex Haley’s television adaptation of Roots. One of the main characters, Kunta Kinte, (Haley claimed was one of his ancestors) was taken from Africa, transported to America, and sold into slavery. He is being played by an unknown actor (Malachi Kirby) as was done in the 1977 version when LeVar Burton was chosen. “History [Channel’s] remake has a similarly recognizable cast [as did the original]. Matthew Goode, Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Tudors) and James Purefoy play slave owners, and Forest Whitaker is Fiddler, the enslaved musician who helps Kinte survive (a role that earned Louis Gossett Jr. an Emmy in the original). Anna Paquin and Mekhi Phifer (ER) play new characters, a Southern belle and her coachman, who share a big secret. Laurence Fishburne shows up in the final episode as Haley” (Rudolph 26).
In our MVCC Library catalog, we have Alex Haley’s 30th anniversary edition of the Pulitzer Prize winning book Roots: the Saga of an American Family and the DVD movie adaptation Roots, both currently available for checkout.
Continuing the Roots theme, we have another book by Haley titled Alex Haley’s Queen: the Story of an American Family. Haley was the grandson of Queen, and his book tells the story about the children of black slave women and their white masters. We also have the first biography on Haley, written by Robert J. Norrell, titled Alex Haley and the Books that Changed a Nation.
“The time [for the retelling of Roots] also seems right with a renewed interest in America’s difficult racial history because of films like 12 Years a Slave… ‘That focus doesn’t happen accidentally,’ Wolper believes. ‘It’s a result of the reaction we have to things that are happening in the world” (Rudolph 26).
Come check out the original version of Roots (in both print and DVD), any other works by Alex Haley, and 12 Years a Slave (in both print and DVD) for the Memorial Day weekend in preparation for the new remake. Also, check out the trailer for the new Roots remake.
Rudolph, Ileane. “Roots Revisited.” TV Guide Magazine May 23 – June 5 2016: 25-27. Print.