MIPTV: 'Roots' Stars Discuss Why a TV Classic Needs a Remake
"When you look at the path that we are walking down right now, it couldn’t be more important," said star Anika Noni Rose about the political discourse in the U.S.
Stars Anika Noni Rose, Anna Paquin and Jonathan Rhys Myers and producers LeVar Burton and Mark Wolper brought their Roots remake to MIPTV on Monday night for a special sneak-preview screening.
The four-part miniseries will air simultaneously on A+E, History and Lifetime when it premieres on American television screens in May.
The original 1977 epic received an astounding 37 Emmy nominations and won nine awards, and still holds ratings records as the second-most-watched series finale in U.S. television history. Sitting down with The Hollywood Reporter, Burton, Rose and Wolpert discussed the reasoning behind the remake.
With such a legacy, Rose herself at first questioned the need to redo the classic. She changed her tune after meeting with Burton and Wolpert and discussing their intention to modernize the story for a younger audience.
“I think there are stories for the ages and I think there are lessons to be learned. Any time those two things collide, it needs to be on repeat,” the actress said.
The book and original film tells the story of Kunta Kinte and his life in Africa before being captured and transported to America, and that of his descendants, and this project adds a chapter that follows the Civil War.
For Burton, who played Kinte in the original and executive produced the remake, it was the need to bring the series back into the national dialogue: “Human beings have very short memories and this story is part and parcel of the civilization of this planet. We need to retell it so we don't repeat it.”
Rose cited the recent move by the state of Texas to alter its textbooks to remove the word "slaves" and replace it with “unpaid workers.”
“That is an erasure of history and ought to be criminal. It’s simply not the truth. It is fiction,” she said, adding that the situation with police and minority youth as well as the degradation of the political discourse during this election cycle is further evidence that Roots needs to re-enter the national conversation. “When you look at the path that we are walking down right now, it couldn’t be more important.”
Wolper felt a keen need to retell the tale for a younger audience. He was very emotional speaking about his teenage son not wanting to sit through the original Roots, which Mark's father, David L. Wolper, produced, because the shooting and editing style was too dated.
“Even my 16-year-old kid who didn't want to watch the original Roots, he understood why it was important," said Wolper. "So if I can take the original story and make something that young people around the world want to see now, then I have accomplished what I set out to do.”
Wolper believes that even though it may cause controversy, the U.S. needs a strong dose of self-examination.
“It is going to be polarizing, it is going to be politicized — and isn't that a good thing?" Wolper suggests. "Because that's what we want people to do: Talk about it, argue about it, analyze it. It needs to happen. If people are sometimes screaming too loud, that's better than people not screaming at all and closing their eyes and not looking back at their own history.”