“Respect your elders” is a common phrase that’s been used in homes for generations. It comes with the implication that we should respect those that come before us as they’ve lived longer and experienced far more.
The 1977 adaptation of Roots was made for my elders, by my elders, about my elders. And I respect it just as I would my elders. I watched it for the first time when I was no older than 10. I was sitting in my living room circa 2000 eating fried catfish with my mom’s boyfriend. I remember seeing Kunta Kinte being whipped nearly a dozen times before whispering the words “My name is Toby…” and watching Belle crawl on her knees as she begged for Kizzy to not be sold away.
Since the History Channel announced that they would be rebooting the critically acclaimed slave narrative, Roots, reactions have been split, with the two actors who depicted Roots‘ most recognizable character, Kunta Kinte, each taking a side.
John Amos, who played an adult Kunta Kinte, told Mashable that the film would be a “pale imitation of the original” and LeVar Burton, who played a young Kunta Kinte, was hesitant to become a part of the project but eventually became a co-executive producer after speaking with producer Mark Wolper. Wolper explained to Burton that while today’s younger generation understands the importance of the original adaptation of Roots, they don’t have the same connection to it.
And, as far as timeliness is concerned, 2016 is a great time to provide context on the history of black lives as their value is a constant part of today’s political conversation.
I was old enough to know that slavery was a tragic part of American history and explained how my family eventually ended up settling in the Midwest when I saw Roots for the first time. But, much like Wolper’s children, I wasn’t able to get engulfed in the story like the generation before me had. There was something blocking that deeper connection.
In my experience, there’s a line that can be drawn sometime in the early ’90s. And if you were watching Roots for the first time on the wrong side of it, you likely had a very different viewing experience than those who’d watched before. For many viewers, the production values and pacing of 1970s television has proven to be a great stumbling block to appreciate Roots.