*Via black celebrity news outlets, stars are sharing their thoughts on the remake of the 1977 miniseries “Roots,” and not everyone is happy to see Kunta Kinte back on the screen.
On Memorial Day, History, Lifetime, and A&E premiered a remake of “Roots” starring black celebrities like Laurence Fishburne, Forest Whitaker, Anika Noni Rose, T.I., and newcomer Malachi Kirby. As it did when it originally aired in 1977, the multi-generational story of slavery in the U.S. has generated its fair share of controversy.
Ronald Reagan isn’t a name you hear often on urban news outlets anymore, but an old quote from the late president is making the rounds this week in the pages of black celebrity news websites. Unsurprisingly, the late president and master dog whistler (he helped popularize the phrase “Welfare Queen”) didn’t have many kind words when “Roots” first went on the air.
Back in 1977, the Washington Post wrote:
“The millions of admirers of the TV presentation of ‘Roots’ didn’t include Ronald Reagan, who said, ‘Very frankly, I thought the bias of all the good people being one color and all the bad people being another was rather destructive.’ He added that he was impressed by the huge audience the series attained, but ‘I didn’t know there was anyone who could stay home eight nights in a row.’”
An Old Story, New Controversy
While Reagan’s old quote was making the rounds on black gossip sites, rapper Snoop Dogg urged black viewers to boycott the new series in a now viral Instagram post.
“I don’t understand America. They just want to keep showing the abuse that we took hundreds and hundreds of years ago. But guess what? We’re taking the same abuse,” he said. “Think about that part. When you all going to make a [expletive] series about the success that black folks is having. The only success we have is ‘Roots’ and ‘12 Years A Slave’?”
“Roots” producer Will Packer believes that the remake’s critics are uncomfortable with depictions of slavery, but defended the importance of the story.
“I understand it. But at the same time, I vehemently disagree,” Packer said. “I think this is a story that’s important enough it should be told in repeated ways.”
Snoop Dogg isn’t the only star questioning the series in the pages of black celeb gossip sites. While many black celebrity news sites have praised the remake, other urban news sites have questioned whether the original really needed to be remade at all.
T.I., who has a supporting role in the series, told The Huffington Post’s black entertainment news vertical that he shared those concerns when Packer first offered him a role.
“This was an opportunity that he presented to me, and of course initially he got a little bit of push back from me,” T.I. said. “I will admit that I was one of the ones to say, ‘Man, I don’t know if that needs to be remade.’ It was just a huge undertaking for him as a producer and for me as an actor to sign up to remake such a classic and to tell a story that has so much pain and just so much turmoil involved in it.”
“Roots” Breaking Records, Again
Not only was the new “Roots” the third most-watched program on Memorial Day, but it was the third most-watched cable miniseries premiere in three years. So, okay, not quite as impressive as the original series, which pulled in 130 million viewers and remains to this day the third most-watched TV show of all time.
But even if the new “Roots” never approaches the blockbuster numbers of the original, it has earned impressive ratings for a cable mini-series.
LeVar Burton originally made warrior-turned-slave Kunta Kinte into a household name, but Malachi Kirby is earning major praise for his “star making” portrayal of the iconic character. TV critics have almost universally praised the London actor’s performance. Vanity Fair wrote that the new mini-series “is built on a dazzling, star-making turn from Malachi Kirby, and his performance should not be missed.
You can check out the trailer for the new series below: