The premiere of A+E Networks’ four-night Roots reboot logged 5.3 million viewers across History, A&E and Lifetime on Memorial Day. The first installment, which aired simultaneously on the three networks, also got repeated two more times over the course of the evening, to cume a total of 8.5M viewers.
article by James Poniewozik via nytimes.com
The original mini-series “Roots” was about history, and it was history itself. Airing on ABC in January 1977, this generational saga of slavery was a kind of answer song to the 1976 Bicentennial celebration of the (white, often slave-owning) founding fathers. It reopened the books and wrote slaves and their descendants into the national narrative.
But as an event, it was also a chapter in that story. It shaped and was shaped by the racial consciousness of its era. It was a prime-time national reckoning for more than 100 million viewers. As a television drama, it was excellent. But as a television broadcast, it was epochal.
The four-night, eight-hour remake of “Roots,” beginning Memorial Day on History, A&E and Lifetime, is largely the same story, compressed in some places and expanded in others, with a lavish production and strong performances. It is every bit as worthy of attention and conversation. But it is also landing, inevitably, in a very different time.
Viewers who watched “Roots” four decades ago have since lived with racial narratives of moving forward and stepping back. They’ve seen America’s first black president elected and a presidential candidate hesitate to disavow the Ku Klux Klan.
So in timing and spirit, this is a Black Lives Matter “Roots,” optimistic in focusing on its characters’ strength, sober in recognizing that we may never stop needing reminders of whose lives matter.
The first new episode, much of it shot in South Africa, looks stunning, another sign of the cultural times. Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby, in the role made famous by LeVar Burton) is now not a humble villager but the scion of an important clan, and his home — Juffure, in Gambia — a prosperous settlement. Kunta is captured by a rival family and sold into slavery to a Virginian (James Purefoy), by way of a harrowing Middle Passage.
Mr. Kirby’s Kunta is a more regal and immediately defiant character than Mr. Burton’s. But his tragedy is the same: He rebels but fails and is beaten into accepting his slave name, Toby. The name — the loss of identity — is as much a weapon as the whip. As the overseer who beats him puts it: “You can’t buy a slave. You have to make a slave.”
Kunta stops running, but he preserves his traditions, including the practice of presenting a newborn baby to the night sky with the words, “Behold, the only thing that is greater than you.”
That theme of belonging to something larger, of the ancestral family as a character in itself, is essential to “Roots.” Although Alex Haley fictionalized the events of his novel on which the mini-series is based, his story offered black Americans what slavery was machine-tooled to erase: places, dates, names, memories. And that focus keeps the ugliness — the racial slurs, the gruesome violence — from rendering this series without hope. A person may live and die in this system, but a people can survive it.
Still, the individual stories remain heartbreaking, even in small moments, as when the slave musician Fiddler (a soulful Forest Whitaker) recognizes a Mandinka tune he overhears Kunta singing. He’s moved — and, it seems, a little frightened by what the recognition stirs in him. As much as he’s worked to efface his heritage as a survival strategy, it lingers, a few notes haunting the outskirts of his memory.
Kunta’s daughter, Kizzy (E’myri Lee Crutchfield as a child, Anika Noni Rose as an adult), is teased with the possibility of a better life; she grows up friends with the master’s daughter and learns to read. But she’s sold to Tom Lea (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a struggling farmer who rapes and impregnates her. Rape — there are several assaults in this series — is another weapon against identity, another way you make a slave. Ms. Rose burns with Kizzy’s determination to hang on to her sense of self.
Laurence Fishburne has been cast as Alex Haley in A+E Networks’ “Roots” remake, the History Channel announced Wednesday.
Haley is the author of the novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” an American family origin story based around the life of Kunta Kinte. The “Roots” remake will be an original, contemporary production, incorporating material from Haley’s novel, as well as carefully researched new scholarship of the time.
“Roots” will be simulcast on A&E, History and Lifetime in 2016.
The Emmy-winning actor currently appears on NBC’s drama “Hannibal” and ABC’s half-hour comedy “Black-ish,” on which he also serves as executive producer. On the big screen, Fishburne will next be seen in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
“Roots” is described as a historical portrait of American slavery recounting the journey of one family’s will to survive, endure and ultimately carry on their legacy despite enormous hardship and inhumanity. Spanning multiple generations, the lineage begins with young Kunta Kinte who is captured in his homeland in Gambia and transported in brutal conditions to colonial America where he’s sold into slavery. Throughout the series, the family continues to face adversity while bearing witness and contributing to notable events in U.S. history — including the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, slave uprisings and eventual emancipation.
Will Packer, Marc Toberoff, Marc Wolper, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal serve as executive producers. LeVar Burton and Korin Huggins are co-executive producers. Konner, Rosenthal, Alison McDonald, and Charles Murray are writing.
article by Laura Prudom via Variety.com
“Roots” is returning to TV next year as a big-ticket event series production to air across History, A&E Network and Lifetime next year.
Producer Will Packer and LeVar Burton, an original “Roots” cast member, are shepherding the project with Mark Wolper, son of the original producer of the 1977 ABC miniseries, David L. Wolper.
Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Alison McDonald and Charles Murray are on board to write the new rendition of the saga of Kunta Kinte, which follows his capture in Africa as a young man through his enslavement in colonial America. “Roots” is based on Alex Haley’s landmark novel of the same name.
“My career began with ‘Roots’ and I am proud to be a part of this new adaptation,” said Burton. “There is a huge audience of contemporary young Americans who do not know the story of ‘Roots’ or its importance. I believe now is the right time to tell this story so that we can all be reminded of its impact on our culture and identity.”
The original eight-part miniseries was a sleeper megahit for ABC that aired over consecutive nights in January 1977. There’s no word yet on how many hours the new “Roots” will run.
A&E Networks execs said producers will work closely with historians and other experts to incorporate new information about the historical period uncovered since the original book and mini were released.
“Kunta Kinte began telling his story over 200 years ago and that story went through his family lineage, to Alex Haley, to my father, and now the mantle rests with me,” said Wolper. “Like Kunta Kinte fought to tell his story over and over again, so must we.”
Said Packer: “The opportunity to present one of America’s most powerful stories to a generation that hasn’t seen it is tremendously exciting. Contemporary society needs this story and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
article by Cynthia Littleton via Variety.com
History and Halle Berry have teamed to develop Hannibal, a miniseries centering on famed general Hannibal Barca in the Second Punic War. Beginning in 264 BC, Hannibal takes viewers through the Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome, exploring the relationship between Hannibal and his archrival Scipio Africanus. Despite their fiercely opposed allegiances, the two are brought together and grow to respect each other as brothers.
Berry will executive produce the miniseries, with Jeffrey Caine serving as the series’ writer. The project will be a co-production between A+E Studios and Red Arrow Entertainment. “Hannibal was not only the greatest African general to ever live,” said Berry, “he may have been the greatest general, period. His story is an intricate and captivating ride and I’m thrilled to get this project off the ground with our partners at History.”
This miniseries builds on Berry’s small screen plans, as the actress was recently cast in the CBS project Extant. Steven Spielberg is executive producing that hour-long Eye drama.
article by AJ Marechal via Variety.com