“Roots” Is Getting A Remake: Is This A Good Or Bad Thing?

November 5, 2013  |  

Just last week I read the title of Demetria Lucas’ piece “Am I The Only One Tired Of All These Slave/Servitude Films?” Like I said I just read the title because I appreciate the fact that these stories are being told. There is a need for them. I come from a house where my father would play “Strange Fruit,” even though we’d all heard it several times before, just so we “wouldn’t forget.” I understand that during a time when people want to claim that we’re living in a post-racial America or that black folks should get over and stop mentioning the lingering, detrimental and dehumanizing effects of slavery, these stories need to be told, even if the people who need to see them won’t. They’re important. It’s one thing for me to tell you how slavery affects the human psyche and it’s an entirely different thing for you to watch it play out on screen. It hits you on a human level. It affects you.

And though I would like to think that people are creating so many movies centered around American slavery because they want to raise awareness or share an often untold story, there is also a part of me that wonders if Hollywood is pushing these films because they’ve see that the formula works. And by works, I mean makes millions of dollars.

I didn’t start to question this until I learned today that The History Channel is taking the hit 1977 miniseries Roots and remaking it.

Deadline.com reports that History Channel is producing a new 8-hour miniseries after acquiring the rights from Mark Wolper, son of the original “Roots” producer David L. Wolper and Alex Haley’s estate for the book Roots: The Saga Of An American Family. The remake will draw from the original series and  book to come from a contemporary perspective.

History EVP and GM, Dirk Hoogstra said: “We would like to revive that cultural icon for a new audience.”

Originally, people from FX were also looking to produce a similar remake but ultimately The History Channel won out.

Deadline goes on to write:

“The timing couldn’t be better — the topic of slavery is very much on people’s minds through a string of popular movies including last year’s Django Unchained, this year’s Oscar hopeful 12 Years A Slave, and with Lee Daniels’ The Butler also touching on the subject.”

In case you failed to realize just how much of a big deal the original “Roots” miniseries was, according to Deadline.com back in 1977 on ABC, over the course of eight nights the show broke records drawing in 100 million viewers, almost half of the entire country.

And last year when BET re-aired it, for its 35th anniversary it drew another 4.1 million viewers for the first two parts.

As someone who loves to see black people on screen from Madea to Medicine for Melancholy, I must admit that my first reaction was a groan and a side eye. I’m fully aware that I may eat my words later but I just want to know why exactly does Roots need a remake? If you ask me, the original story, with the original actors still holds up. In an era where few classics are without their remake, sequel or prequel this all feels a bit exploitative and less about sharing a crucial part of American history.

But I could be wrong.

Whatever the motivation, I do know that companies and networks are always out to make money. And even if this is their sole motivation, it doesn’t mean that audiences, today’s new generation won’t get something from this remake. And perhaps, if this does well as the original did all those years ago, it just might mean Hollywood execs, cable networks and investors will be more inclined to throw money at other black stories that are completely unrelated to the time of slavery and Jim Crow.

What do you think about a Roots Remake? Will you watch?

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