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.
article by Nick Prevenas via uanews.arizona.edu
Ever since he can remember, Rick Kittles always wanted to know where he came from.
Born in Sylvania, Georgia, and raised near Long Island, New York, a great deal of his academic interest was sparked by the desire to trace his ancestral lineage as far back as it could go. This proved to be exceedingly difficult, for a number of reasons.
“There simply wasn’t a strong database in place or any kind of access to information on African genetics,” Kittles said. “Records were either inaccurate or nonexistent, so there were a number of hurdles in place for African-Americans to try to figure out their ancestry.”
An aptitude for biology, coupled with a deep exploration of Alex Haley’s novel, “Roots,” led Kittles on a path that eventually would help thousands of people like him clear these hurdles. He is the director of the Division of Population Genetics at the University of Arizona, which he joined in July 2014.
Developing and implementing a comprehensive African genealogy database seemed daunting at first, but during his graduate studies at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and, later, though his work at Howard University’s College of Medicine in the late 1990s, Kittles met the historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and fellow geneticists who could help turn this dream into a reality.
“I was looking at my own DNA profile, analyzing my Y-chromosome lineage, and I noticed my Nigerian lineage didn’t track with the other Y-chromosome samples from West Africa,” Kittles said.
As Stevie Wonder so aptly put it in his 1976 tribute to the 20th-century pioneers of sound, “Sir Duke”: “Music is a world within itself / With a language we all understand / With an equal opportunity / For all to sing, dance and clap their hands.”
Sir David Robert Jones, aka “Ziggy Stardust”, aka “The Thin White Duke”, but most commonly known around the world as David Bowie, fully understood and embodied the language of this universality, and connected with audiences around the world, no matter what genre he chose to explore. Some of his greatest commercial success came from his exploration of R&B music (“Young Americans”, “Fame”, “Golden Years”, “Under Pressure,” “Let’s Dance”), but his musical life was one of constant change and innovation, which made this unique singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, arranger, painter and actor a prominent, global figure in popular music for over four decades.
According to the New York Times, Bowie’s last album, “Blackstar,” a collaboration with a jazz quartet that was typically enigmatic and exploratory, was released on Friday — his birthday. He had also collaborated on an Off Broadway musical, “Lazarus,” which was a surreal sequel to the 1976 film that featured his definitive screen role, “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”
Bowie wrote songs, above all, about being an outsider: an alien, a misfit, a sexual adventurer, a faraway astronaut. His music was always a mutable blend — rock, cabaret, jazz and what he called “plastic soul” — but it was suffused with genuine soul. Bowie, in turn, influenced many of today’s prominent R&B, soul, pop/rock and hip-hop artists, (remember Queen Latifah’s collab on the “Fame ’90” redux?) many of whom are already honoring him:
David Bowie was a true innovator, a true creative. May he rest in peace 🖖🏾 #RIPDavidBowie
— Pharrell Williams (@Pharrell) January 11, 2016
Bowie is to be honored with a concert at Carnegie Hall on March 31 featuring the Roots, Cyndi Lauper and the Mountain Goats.
Bowie lost his 18-month battle with cancer on Sunday night, and is survived by his son, director Duncan Jones, wife Iman and their daughter Alexandria.
To read more about Bowie, his life and career, click here. To see him perform live in 1974 on “The Dick Cavett Show” with Luther Vandross on background vocals, check out the video below:
article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (follow @lakinhutcherson)
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 Whitaker, Anna Paquin, Jonathan 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 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
Last year Kerry Washington and Don Cheadle made Emmy history as two African American actors breaking through the lead acting categories at the same time with nominations. Not only did they both earn nominations again this year, but a total of 11 Black actors and actresses were nominated across all acting categories — the most since 1977 when Roots racked up nine nominations for its castmembers according to TV Academy stats (Roots wound up winning trophies for Olivia Hope and Louis Gossett Jr). Last year Washington’s nom for Scandal repped the first in nearly two decades for a black actress, the last being Cicely Tyson in 1995′sSweet Justice. This year, Washington will be running into Tyson on the red carpet as she’s also up for an nomination in the lead movie/miniseries actress category for The Trip to Bountiful. Another big year for Black actors was 1986, when The Cosby Show earned eight acting nominations and a guest comedy actor win for Roscoe Lee Browne. Typically the Emmys, similar to the Oscars, has been criticized for a lack of diversity in the past.
“It’s a testament to the storytelling that is going on out there,” Andre Braugher, who plays Captain Ray Holt on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, said this morning about the record. “If you look at what Fox is doing with diverse comedies, there’s The Mindy Project and our show. There’s a new dimension of half-hour comedies that don’t depend on stereotypes or the boxes we put people in. I play a gay police captain on Brooklyn Nine-Nine and I’m not the butt of the joke. That’s revolutionary for TV.”
Added Cheadle about the trend, “It definitely reps a widening of the storytelling and more inclusive ideology of the shared stories and experiences we all have. It’s creeping toward something, but there’s still a lack of recognition for other nationalities. It’s definitely better, but it’s not something you can pin too much on as a trend since next year could be lower.”
Of the 11 this year, there’s Washington in Scandal (lead drama actress), Joe Morton also in Scandal (guest actor drama), Cheadle in House Of Lies (lead actor comedy series), Braugher for Brooklyn Nine-Nine (supporting comedy actor), Chiwetel Ejiofor in Starz’s Dancing On The Edge, Idris Elba for Luther (both in movie/miniseries actor category), Tyson in Trip to Bountiful (lead actress movie/miniseries), Angela Bassett in American Horror Story: Coven (movie/miniseries supporting actress), Reg. E. Cathey in House Of Cards (guest actor drama), and Uzo Aduba and Laverne Cox in Orange Is The New Black (both guest actress comedy series).
article by Anthony D’Alessandro via deadline.com
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.
The show, the latest in an annual concert series put on by New York entrepreneur Michael Dorf, will raise money for various music education organizations, including Music Unites, the Pinwheel Project and the Center for Arts Education. Past shows have paid tribute to The Rolling Stones, The Who, Joni Mitchell and Elton John among other luminaries.
In addition to Talib Kweli and The Roots, performers at the show who will interpret Prince songs will include the Blind Boys of Alabama, DeVotchKa, Living Colour, Madeleine Peyroux and more. Tickets for the concert, to take place March 7, are available online here.
article by Reggie Ugwu via bet.com