Middle America got its first take on slavery and the horrors that were involved when the miniseries Roots (based on author Alex Haley’s book Roots: The Saga of an American Family) premiered on ABC television in January 1977. The show played from January 23 to January 30, 1977 and opened eyes and hearts to something that wasn’t on the public consciousness. The show literally created what became known as “the water cooler conversation” for the next day after work/school. More than ¾ of the country watched this show and the final episode was watched by more than 100 million people. The only television show watched by more was the series finale of M.A.S.H. Nowadays, the only thing on television that can rival those numbers is the Super Bowl.
There are certain movies/television shows that should never be remade. They are perfect the way they were presented. To remake them would be a set up for failure. Those nostalgic for the perfection of the original can be disappointed, and even have their appreciating of the original lowered.
So when it was announced that the History Channel was producing a remake of the beloved miniseries, many people collectively questioned why on Earth this would be remade. It served a great purpose back then and helped bring a country together dealing with such an ugly dark chapter of American history. What would be the purpose, and what would be the benefit? After all, when it was released there was no Internet to research the trans-Atlantic slave trade and learn about the atrocities committed. Now, everyone with a phone can learn all they want to about American history within minutes. There is no need to discuss a show the next day, we have Facebook and Twitter to discuss in in real time during the commercial breaks. So why remake such a show, other than the for the sake of cashing in, which is done through the endless remakes being produced almost like an assembly line.
The History Channel recently released a trailer for the upcoming Roots miniseries remake. Like many people, I had little to no excitement about this project. However at the insistence of a friend, I clicked on the YouTube video and watched the trailer for the upcoming show.
Well, that did change my mind! I’m completely on board with a Roots remake after seeing that!
After watching it and seeing the increased production value make it look spectacular, it seems that the show is going even deeper into the institution of slavery as well as what happens after slavery ended. I was very young, but do not recall many of the details of Roots after the abolition of slavery. There is an all-star cast attached to this film. Attached to star are Forest Whitaker, Anna Paquin, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Chad Coleman, Anika Noni Rose, Erica Tazel, Derek Luke, and Laurence Fishburne, so there seems to be a concentrated effort on putting together a great program. There is an eerie similar feeling of past movies like Glory, Amistad, and 12 Years a Slave, which have all also dealt with slavery.
Given today’s political climate and all the “post-racial” issues going on, there does need to be a revisiting of the events and things that happened during that time period. Of course, there are many that say “we can’t keep looking back, we have to look forward.” But ultimately we need to revisit history to learn from it. We can also use the past as a litmus test for how far we have come, and how far we have left to go. After all, those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.