In January of 1977, the world tuned in to watch what would become a national phenomenon and possibly one of the most important films to African Americans across the country. Alex Haley’s mini-series Roots was viewed by approximately 130 million people when it aired. Despite the accusations and acknowledgement of plagiarism against and by Alex Haley, Kunta Kinte became a household name and his legacy became the face of the legacies of millions of descendants of African American slaves.
Over the years, Kunte Kinte has remained a popular culture icon. Every year in Annapolis, Maryland, a Kunta Kinte festival is held. According to Haley, Annapolis is where Kunta Kinte arrived following his journey on the Middle Passage. In 2015, Kendrick Lamar released a track entitle “King Kunta”. I even recall a video of my 3rd birthday (1990), where a party goer referred to my one-year old brother as “Kunta Kinte Gibbs”.
Remaking a mini-series that has remained so iconic since its release over four decades ago could very well have been disastrous. However, the History Channel and A&E’s release of Roots in 2016, more than lived up to its predecessor. The acting was incredible! The story remained just as disturbing and just as thought-provoking. There are several iconic scenes that were just as difficult to watch. When Kunta Kinte is whipped until he says his slave name Toby, the brutality of his beating is just as difficult to watch as the 1977 version with actor LeVar Burton in the role as Kunta Kinte.
In an age where it seems as though everything is so racially charged, remembering the painful legacy of American chattel slavery is even more important. Films like Roots force us to remain consciously aware of the effects of slavery and how they still impact Americans, especially African Americans today. While difficult to watch, the remake of Roots is an important update to an already important film. To recreate this mini-series to appeal to new generations, with appearances by relevant actors like T.I. “Tip” Harris, Anika Noni Rose, and Forest Whitaker, was brilliant. This is one remake that is worth the watch.