Upon my initial excitement that a Roots miniseries remake was acquired by the History Channel, my thoughts began racing about the real need for another slave narrative in the coming year. 2012 saw the release of Django Unchained. 2013 saw the release of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave.
After the sobering portrayal of slavery in the latter, I don’t think I’ll be watching another slave narrative for awhile. Leaving the theater, a couple in front of me exclaimed, “I need a cocktail after that.” My friend later commented that 12 Years A Slave is “The best movie you’ll watch and never want to see again or a movie you’ll never want to see in the first place.” I shifted, cried, and turned away from the screen at times during the two-hours of 12 Years. How could I possibly endure an 8-hour mini-series?
McQueen made Tarantino’s western seem like a fairytale where the slaves walked (or rather rode off) into the proverbial sunset. Even after the Emancipation, which in itself took years to accomplish, many former slaves still worked the fields of their former owners. Romanticism aside, the western touched on love in a world where Africans were treated as chattel, sold without regard to family ties, love and feelings.
I asked myself what good would the reboot do and if another slave narrative is needed, when there are numerous unturned African-American and universal themes that could be tackled by television and theaters. Besides Henry Louis’ PBS show Many Rivers To Cross, aims to give an overall view of the plight of the African-American.
Roots was a 70s cultural phenomenon that broke ratings records and remains one of the defining moves of the slave narrative genre. Roots was a pioneer that inspired future movies, even quoted by Tyler Perry’s Madea detailing the infamous scene in which Kunta Kinte gets his foot amputated. Comparisons have been drawn about Disney’s The Lion King to the scene of Kunta Kinte being christened and contained Swahili words such as “hakuna matata” (No troubles or no problems).
I remember tackling Alex Haley’s opus about Kunta Kinte’s family tree and feeling emotionally exhausted for caring for these characters as my own ancestors. However, the miniseries did provide a positive outcome. The novel incited feelings to trace my own family tree, a task I have since given up but nonetheless inspired dialogue among my sharecropping great-grandparents.
As my elders grow older, I am curious to learn of their upbringing and the changes in America, including witnessing the first African-American president. The film gave me a sense of pride about the strength and resilience of my ancestors. My pride extended into my desire to obtain higher education, a right once denied to Blacks. I embraced my dark complexion and kinky hair. Maybe the younger generation could be affected positively and served a reminder about how far African Americans have come.
Those behind the Roots reboot promise Roots will receive a contemporary twist, drawing inspiration from Alex Haley’s best seller and the original Emmy nominated miniseries. But how contemporary can you make American slavery? Hopefully there will be no CGI effects or 3D effects.
Nonetheless, the news has piqued my curiosity. I’m sure I’ll join my friends in watching the remake to hash it out over our standing Sunday brunch, that’s if I’m able to stomach yet another slave narrative.