Tag: LeVar Burton

Pioneering Astronaut Mae Jemison Offers Insight and Forward Thinking to New National Geographic Channel Series “One Strange Rock”

Renowned Astronaut Dr. Mae Jamison (photo via nbcphiladelphia.com)
by Lori Lakin Hutcherson, GBN Editor-in-Chief

Recently, Good Black News was invited to cover the launch of “One Strange Rock,” a ten-part space/science series on the National Geographic Channel that premieres Monday, 3/26, and is hosted and narrated by Will Smith. It is director Darren Aronofsky‘s (“Black Swan,” “mother!,” “Requiem For a Dream”) first foray into television, and the series is produced by Jane Root through her production company Nutopia. It is a cinematic look at Earth from a variety of perspectives – from space, from the sea, from the desert – and across all continents.

From the episodes I’ve seen, “One Strange Rock” is a gorgeous, meditative, eye-opening look at our planet, and Smith is a welcome, friendly guide along the journey to get to know Earth and all its ecosystems in ways we haven’t seen or previously considered. But what honestly got me excited about “One Strange Rock” was the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American female to travel into space (and one of my personal she-ros) to speak with her about her participation in “One Strange Rock,” as well as her other current projects (100 Year Starship and Look Up).

As I start to record the interview (this is moments after I fangirl and tell Dr. Jemison I dressed up as her one Halloween, entered a costume contest and won a 25-dollar gift card to Virgin Records), I state into my Voice Memo app the date, time, and that I’m about to interview Dr. Mae Jemison, she charmingly interrupts.

Mae Jemison: How about if we do it in Star Date Time? 2018.01.13, right?

Good Black News: Way better! That’s a Trekkie for you! I appreciate that, thank you, Dr. Jemison. Well, first I want to ask you about your involvement in “One Strange Rock.” Why, of all the different entities out there covering space, space travel, space exploration, did you want to lend your voice to this project?

MJ: So “One Strange Rock” is the story of the extraordinary journey of Earth. It’s about our home planet and how we went from this collection of rock and gases to something that supports life and an incredible diversity of life, and I wanted to be a part of that. When people think about space, so frequently they think about it just as the stars and the pictures and images and the rockets. But actually, space allows us to see our world that we live on. Space allows us to understand that when we look up at the stars, we’re actually made of the stuff of stars. Right? Inside of us is the heart of an old star. Doesn’t that make you feel like you belong to this universe and that you’re supposed to be here?

Absolutely. So is your hope with this particular project that more people will get that understanding that there isn’t a separation?

MJ: “One Strange Rock” does this incredible thing – it takes us from the smallest microbe, or to how oxygen is generated in small bubbles, all the way to the vistas of continents or being able to see our atmosphere, and connects it together. And so for me, one of the things we need to understand at some point in time – we’ve got to figure this out – is that we’re Earthlings and that we’re connected to this planet. So when I went into space, one of the things that happened to me is that I had an affirmation of something that I always believed. You know when people say, “Save the Earth”? They’re mistaken – the Earth will be here. The difference is, can we act in such a way that it continues to support our life form? You see, what “One Strange Rock” shows is how integrated life is on this planet and we as humans are part of that life. If we go to another world – just go to the space station – we have to carry some of the Earth with us. We have to carry that environment with us because this is where we evolved, this is where we developed. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t leave – obviously I want to leave -I want to go and explore other places. But it’s the recognition that there are a… unique series of coincidences, events and everything that led us to this day, to humans, to me sitting talking to you. And they started billions of years ago.

So with all of that, you talk in the first episode about the “Overview Effect” – about seeing the planet and essentially what you just communicated to me. How do you get people who don’t have the opportunity to go into space to understand that boundaries and countries and all of these things that we do as human beings to identify in all these different ways is a way of looking at Earth that isn’t going to help foster the survival of our species?

MJ: So I want to make one thing clear – I know a lot of astronauts talk about the “Overview Effect” – that everything belongs right here on this planet – for me when I went into space… I knew damn well that water crosses from one country to another, that our sky is over different countries and weather affects everyone. What “One Strange Rock” does is help people to understand and feel that. So I can maybe mumble words and give you statistics and stuff, but it’s not the same thing as having that emotional connection. What I’m so proud about with “One Strange Rock” is that it takes images from lots of different countries, from African countries, from South American countries – it goes down underneath the Earth and goes up to the top. And all those things help us to see this planet and the imagery from people, to animals, to… desolate locations. And so, it’s not so much again about mumbling the words, or even saying the words very clearly, it’s about allowing people to see and be there with you. And not just from space, because we get down to the detail. We see kids playing, we see folks who’ve been collecting salt for generations from one location. All of those things are important for us to understand our connectedness to this world. And it’s not about preaching and it’s not about how fast the Space Station is orbiting the Earth or any of that kind of stuff – it’s that vantage point. Continue reading “Pioneering Astronaut Mae Jemison Offers Insight and Forward Thinking to New National Geographic Channel Series “One Strange Rock””

TV REVIEW: “Roots”, airing Memorial Day on History Channel, A&E and Lifetime, Resonates in a Black Lives Matter Era

Malachi Kirby, center, as Kunta Kinte in “Roots.” (Credit: Casey Crafford/A+E Networks)

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.

Continue reading “TV REVIEW: “Roots”, airing Memorial Day on History Channel, A&E and Lifetime, Resonates in a Black Lives Matter Era”

“Roots” TV Movie Adds Forest Whitaker, Anika Noni Rose, Anna Paquin, More to Cast

Roots Forest Whitaker Anna Paquin
Forest Whitaker, Anna Paquin (photo variety.com)

A+E Networks has announced additional casting for “Roots,” its epic miniseries based on Alex Haley’s 1976 novel as well as other researched material.

The four-night, eight-hour scripted miniseries has tapped newcomer Malachi Kirby to play lead Kunta Kinte, the Mandinka warrior captured in his homeland of the Gambia and forced into slavery in colonial America. Forest WhitakerAnna PaquinJonathan Rhys Meyers and Anika Noni Rose have also been added to the cast. Casting descriptions are below. They join Laurence Fishburne, who had already been cast as Haley.

The production, which hails from A+E Studios in association with Marc Toberoff and The Wolper Organization, also announced that Mario Van Peebles and Bruce Beresford will be directing the episodes set to air on nights two and four. Phillip Noyce and Thomas Carter had already signed on to direct the episodes for nights one and three and Grammy winner Questlove will serve as executive music producer.

“Roots” will air in 2016 and be simulcast on A&E, Lifetime and History. Will Packer, Toberoff, Mark Wolper, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal serve as executive producers. LeVar Burton, who played Kunta Kinte in the 1977 TV movie, and Korin D. Huggins are co-executive producers. Konner, Rosenthal, Alison McDonald, and Charles Murray are writing. Dirk Hoogstra, Arturo Interian and Michael Stiller serve as executives in charge of production for History. “Roots” is distributed internationally by A+E Networks under the A+E Studios International banner.

* Forest Whitaker (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “South Paw”) will play Fiddler, a slave who tries to mentor Kunta Kinte and ends up risking his own life to help him escape.

* Anna Paquin (“True Blood”) plays Nancy Holt, the wife of a Confederate officer who happens to have her own agenda when it comes to handling the slaves.

* Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“The Tudors”) plays Tom Lea, an uneducated slave owner who is desperate to claw his way into the elite company of Southern gentility.

* Anika Noni Rose (“Dream Girls,” “The Good Wife,” “The Princess and the Frog”) plays Kizzy, Kunta Kinte’s cherished, smart daughter who maintains her family pride and warrior spirit.

* Chad L. Coleman (“The Walking Dead,” “The Wire”) plays Mingo, the stern no-nonsense slave who really keeps the Lea plantation afloat.

* Regé-Jean Page (“Waterloo Road”) plays Chicken George, Kizzy’s son who is a handsome social magnet. He knows how to transfix a crowd with a story, yet doesn’t appreciate what he has until his luck abandons him.

* Erica Tazel (“Justified”) plays Matilda, a preacher’s daughter and love interest to Chicken George.

* Derek Luke (“Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Antwone Fisher”) plays Silla Ba Dibba, a military trainer charged with transforming teen boys into powerful Mandinka Warriors.

article by Whitney Frielander via Variety.com

Laurence Fishburne to Star as Alex Haley in “Roots” Remake for A&E Networks

Laurence Fishburne The Signial
Laurence Fishburne at NAACP Awards (photo via Variety.com)

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

LeVar Burton, Will Packer Produce “Roots” Remake to Air on History, A&E and Lifetime Next Year

rootscover“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.

Actor/Producer LeVar Burton
Actor/Producer LeVar Burton

“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

Levar Burton’s ‘Reading Rainbow’ Kickstarter Campaign Breaks Record With Number of Backers

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‘Star Trek’ actor and ‘Reading Rainbow’ host LeVar Burton has created a supremely successful Kickstarter campaign to make a web version of his award-winning PBS show that’s on track to raise $5 million when it ends. (COURTESY OF READING RAINBOW)

“Star Trek” actor and “Reading Rainbow” host LeVar Burton has created a supremely successful Kickstarter campaign to make a web version of his award-winning PBS show that’s on track to raise $5 million when it ends.
A little “Reading Rainbow” has gone a very long way.

The Kickstarter campaign to create a web version of the award-winning PBS show has broken a record on the crowd fund-raising site for most individual contributors, Entrepreneur magazine reports.

With just one day to go, the effort, created by the show’s executive producer and host LeVar Burton, has amassed more than 97,000 contributors and nearly $5 million.

“Bring Reading Rainbow Back for Every Child, Everywhere” was created at the end of May. In a matter of hours, the campaign surpassed its initial goal of $1 million.

Soon after, “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarlane pledged to match donations to the literary project up to $1 million, Burton announced June 28.

As the “Reading Rainbow” effort quickly became the fifth-most funded campaign on Kickstarter, in an unprecedented move the four bigger campaigns — including the “Veronica Mars” movie project — have all donated rewards to it.

article by Chiderah Monde via nydailynews.com

LeVar Burton Helps Raise $1Million on Kickstarter for “Reading Rainbow” Reboot

ReadingRainbowLevarBurtonLS_article_story_large

LeVar Burton, host of the children’s educational program Reading Rainbow, started a Kickstarter campaign yesterday with colleagues to create an interactive online version of the reading program for kids everywhere and to help schools in need.  The goal of $1 million was reached in just 11 hours.  (See video of Burton’s reaction below.”

Burton hosted the show since its beginning on PBS in 1983 until it went off the air in 2009 and recently helped launch the Reading Rainbow application for tablets.  The Kickstarter campaign says they would like to be on the internet, not just in an app, so the program is accessible to more children.

With the first $1 million, Reading Rainbow could be placed in over 1,500 classrooms for free.  New extended goals will be released for donations past their original goal, said CEO and writer/director of Reading Rainbow Mark Wolfe in an update.

The 35 day campaign still has 34 days left.  As of Thursday morning, the Kickstarter campaign had raised over $1.7 million with over 37,900 backers who had donated.

article by Carrie Healey via thegrio.com

“Roots” Cast to be Featured on SiriusXM for Black History Month

ctors Louis Gossett Jr., Ben Vereen, Cicely Tyson, LeVar Burton, Leslie Uggams, and John Amos of 'Roots' pose in the pressroom during the 59th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on September 16, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Actors Louis Gossett Jr., Ben Vereen, Cicely Tyson, LeVar Burton, Leslie Uggams, and John Amos of ‘Roots’ pose in the pressroom during the 59th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on September 16, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The original cast of the groundbreaking TV mini-series Roots will be partaking in a live Q&A for a town-hall event on Sirius XM tonight in light of Black History Month.  The cast, which includes LeVar Burton, Leslie Uggams and Louis Gossett Jr., will answer questions from a studio audience moderated by civil rights activist Joe Madison after the broadcast of the mini-series.

“We are excited to have members of the original cast of Roots in our studios with a live audience. Joe Madison’s dedication to civil rights and social issues and his ability to put history into context for a wide audience of all people makes him the ideal host for this special event,” said Scott Greenstein, President and Chief Content Officer of SiriusXM in a press release.

Continue reading ““Roots” Cast to be Featured on SiriusXM for Black History Month”

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