Tag: Malachi Kirby

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.

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“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

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