One of the most watched television series in history has been reimagined and remastered. History will premiere “Roots” on Memorial Day 2016, Monday, May 30, and air four consecutive nights at 9 p.m. The historical portrait of American slavery recounts the trans-Atlantic journey of 18th century free men, women and adolescents, their will to live and hold on to their legacy, tradition, pride and the familial love they once knew.
“Roots” stars a stellar cast, including Oscar winners Forest Whitaker (“Fiddler”) and Anna Paquin (“Nancy Holt”); Emmy Award-winning Laurence Fishburne (“Alex Haley”); Golden Globe Award-winning actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“Tom Lea”); Tony Award-winning Anika Noni Rose (“Kizzy”); Grammy Award-winning Tip “T.I.” Harris (“Cyrus”); Chad L. Coleman (“Mingo”); Emayatzy Corinealdi (“Belle”); Matthew Goode (“Dr. William Waller”); Derek Luke (“Silla Ba Dibba”); Mekhi Phifer (“Jerusalem”); James Purefoy (“John Waller”); Erica Tazel (“Matilda”); and introduces Regé-Jean Page (“Chicken George”) and Malachi Kirby (“Kunta Kinte”).
LeVar Burton is the original Kunta Kinte, a teen taken from his village, Juffure, in Gambia, West Africa to Maryland to be enslaved. A co-executive producer of the new millennium “Roots” (1977), he says in a statement, “Nearly 40 years ago, I had the privilege to be a part of an epic television event that started an important conversation in America. I am incredibly proud to be a part of this new retelling and start the dialogue again, at a time when it is needed more than ever.”
On Monday, May 9, T.I. was joined by Will Packer (“Roots,” executive producer); radio personalities Ed Lover and Ryan Cameron; millennial and student at Georgia State University Tamarre Torchon; and director of Morehouse Honors Program and associate professor of African American Studies, Samuel T. Livingston, Ph.D. on a post-screening talk back panel at the Center for Civil and Human Rights where we screened most of the first episode of the four-part series. Media personality Jeff Johnson served at the panel’s moderator.
On night four, the TV audience will meet Cyrus, a headstrong slave who fights for freedom from the Union Army against Confederate Forces. He befriends and helps Chicken George. Reluctant at first to tackle the role in a “slave movie,” T.I. offers his perspective on why he had the courage to say yes to Packer when he recruited him to be a part of the re-creation of the nine-time Emmy Award-winning TV series.
“First, I want to say with great honesty that I was one of those people who told Will Packer that I do not want to see another slave movie. We went back and forth up until the first day of shooting discussing how necessary this project is for people. My reluctance was based for the most part on experiencing this hardship firsthand. I have never had a role that resulted in my performance hanging over my head. I was like ‘I don’t know about this Will, this is a tall order.’ Will was like ‘We need you; you can do it. Get out there.'”
He continues, “He threw me into the plantations on the outskirts of Louisiana. We were attacked by mosquitoes. We endured harsh conditions for a great cause. This production is extremely important. We [our generation] are so plugged into Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat that we forget about what really happened in the past. This was definitely the most intense performance of my career. I’m in episode four. I am a rebellious soldier in the Civil War. I am the Tupac of ‘Roots’.”
Packer adds, “This is a re-creation of a world. It was a spiritual experience being on set. We literally shot on real plantations. Everyone is in full wardrobe and character. These scenes, as hard as they are to watch, were as hard to film. It was incredible. I have never been a part of a project that had this level of importance, moved me the way this project moved me. It was hard to be on set. This isn’t something where you yell ‘cut’ and everyone goes back to normal. When you are in it, you are in that world.”