Memorial Day. Typically a day filled with cookouts and family time, it’s also the day that we take to reflect on the lives of the men and women who went to fight for our country but did not return home. However, this year, Memorial Day also marked the release of the reboot of the critically acclaimed mini-series Roots, based on the novel by Alex Haley of the same title.
The original Roots premiered on January 23, 1977, and was broken into 8 parts which were aired on the American Broadcasting Company, or ABC. Before the series’ conclusion on January 30th of the same year, its viewership reached over 100 million people, which was just shy of the United States population at the time. It received numerous awards and was highly praised for its story-telling, visual aesthetics, and its apparent accuracy to the struggles and hardships of the African slave trade that America was built on. Despite the controversy and the mixed reviews that the original movies received from the black community at the time, the show still provided roles for many Black stars that we’ve come to know and love, such as Lou Gossett, Jr., John Amos, LeVar Burton, Cecily Tyson, Maya Angelou, and those that we don’t love so much anymore like O.J. Simpson(Yes, you did read that correctly). All in all, the original Roots’ series was a bit of a launch point for television entertainment for really pushing the boundaries and providing people with an uncomfortable view into the face of America’s origin and giving people a broader, although slightly biased, perspective on the Black experience in this country.
The remake tries to follow closely in the footsteps of its predecessor and it does so, while at the same time, flexing its muscles with a new spin on storytelling, choosing to guide the story away from the masters and putting the slaves at the very center of our attention. The remake also chooses to make good use of black star power, though not as heavily as the original. We can look forward to seeing some of our modern favorites such as Derek Luke, Clifford “T.I.” Harris and Mekhi Phifer, along with legendary actors like Forrest Whittaker, and the vocal talents of Laurence Fishburne. From a critical standpoint, it’s a very good show. It’s well acted and the tone and the setting are incredibly realistic. For those who are unfamiliar with the Roots series, this is a fine introduction and, of course, due to the obvious technological advances, it visually surpasses the original a great deal. However, as is the case with most modern remakes in TV and movies, it feels a bit unnecessary.
There has been no shortage of screenplays from the past that have been taken and retooled to fit modern times and not all of them have been successful. Roots’ first night viewership reached about 5 million people, which is quite good until you realize that that is spread across three different channels which are barely a fraction of our country’s population today. Although it is still early, if the first episode is any indication of what the show has in store, they may reach close to the number of viewers as their predecessor, even if they may not receive the same number of awards. Again, it can be said that on the basis of videography, the show is good. Unfortunately overall, it is just more evidence that there is clearly a creative drought taking place in Hollywood.