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LeVar Burton weighed in on a controversial Keith Olbermann tweet that referenced the actor’s Roots character on Tuesday, telling the formers sports commentator and current Olbermann vs. Trump host, “Try again!”
Olbermann’s tweet, now deleted but saved in screenshots by some Twitter users, was responding to a separate tweet about a Fox & Friends segment covering Trump’s recent criticism of Fox News. “Yes, @realDonaldTrump has always been, will always be, and on the day of his bid for re-election, still is: a whiny little Kunta Kinte,” Olbermann said, citing the name of a character portrayed by both Burton and actor John Amos in the 1977 miniseries Roots. In the miniseries and in the 1976 book on which the series was based, Kinte, the story’s central character, is a Gambian warrior who is captured, transported to the U.S. and enslaved.
After the Olbermann tweet drew backlash from users who pointed out that the name can be used as a slur for recent African immigrants, Olbermann wrote, “Just logged back in: I apologize for my previous subtweet of this. I was using an old 70’s-80’s technique for calling somebody a c*** without writing/saying c***, just using a sound-alike to call Trump a c*** Deleting previous, largely because this one clarifies the c*** part.”
Apparently in response to Olbermann’s remarks, Burton changed his profile picture to an image of him portraying Kinte in the 1977 miniseries. He then tweeted, “Dear @KeithOlbermann, #Kunta is pronounced with a long ‘u’ as in unity, not a short ‘u’ as in cup. Try again! Love, Kunta.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Burton added, “I think the thing I didn’t address [on Twitter] that is also important to note is that at the end of the day, whether he was trying to call Trump a name without using the word or not, he still referred to Kunta as ‘whiny.’ Enslaved people were not ‘whiny.'”
As to whether he will keep Kinte as his profile picture, Burton said during the Election Day conversation, “Probably. I’ll know better in five or six hours.” His message for voters at the polls as they begin to close nationwide? “If you’re in line, you get to have your ballot cast: Hang in there, as long as it takes. And thank you for voting, thank you for exercising your civic duty,” he said.
The Roots miniseries became a massive television event when it aired on ABC in 1977, garnering an estimated 140 million viewers, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It won nine Emmys, was nominated for 37 and also landed a Peabody Award. The minseries was remade in 2016.
Nov. 3, 3:23 p.m. Updated to include quotes from Burton interview.
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