‘Roots’ Miniseries Remake in the Works at History Channel

Published 1 year ago by

Levar Burton in Roots Roots Miniseries Remake in the Works at History Channel
The 1977 ABC television miniseries Roots was a deeply significant cultural event. Based on the book Roots: The Saga of An American Family by Alex Haley, the eight-part miniseries chronicled the lives of an African-American family (based on Haley’s own family history), from the year 1750 to about 1861, all of whom descended from Kunta Kinte (Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s LeVar Burton in his first major role), a man who was kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery.

The miniseries was seen by between 130 and 140 million people, and is still the third highest-rated show of all time, inspiring a sequel miniseries and a Christmas-themed TV movie. Nearly forty years later, Roots remains an iconic look at American history’s biggest sin, as well as a template for many historically-themed miniseries which came after.

Now, during a time when the subject of slavery is at the forefront of the public consciousness (thanks to movies like Django Unchained and 12 Years A Slave), Deadline reports that the History Channel is developing a new eight-hour miniseries remake, which will take inspiration both from the book and the original series. The cable channel will reportedly soon be talking with writers and presumably directors. According to History’s Executive Vice-President Dirk Hoogstra:

“We would like to revive that cultural icon for a new audience.”

Levar Burton and Lou Gosset Jr Roots Miniseries Remake in the Works at History Channel

The History Channel has had a string of successes with fictionalized small-screen versions of historical subjects, with its popular Vikings series, the big audience draw of The Bible, as well as the surprise hit miniseries Hatfields & McCoys. The specific subject of race relations in America has also been front and center in the past few years, with The Help, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Fruitvale Station and Lincoln all bringing this issue into focus in different ways – as did the tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Hoogstra acknowledges that “History in general is in the zeitgeist, which is great for us being a network whose name is History.” 

The original Roots shattered ratings, and with its groundbreaking largely black cast (which included Louis Gossett, Jr., John Amos and Ben Vereen) it paved the way for similar undertakings in the future. However, there were legal issues with the original book which remain little known: author Alex Haley admitted to plagiarizing portions of Roots from a previously-published novel The African, and some researchers took issue with Haley’s assertion that he had traced his lineage back through history to one single person.  These aspects may or may not be worth clearing up with the new series’ adaptation.

Still, Roots remains iconic, and while it appears that History jump-started this project only in the wake of the racial-themed projects referenced above – shades of unsightly exploitation of a still-raw subject – a fresh perspective and adaptation could be a decidedly positive take on what remains a blight on this country’s past.

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Roots is in development at the History Channel.

Source: Deadline

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  1. History Channel would be wise to leave it alone or just reair the original miniseries. There were moments in the original that were holy improvised because the actors grew into their characters and grew with one another. Perfect example is the scene after Kunta Kitna is whipped until he says his white name. Louis Gossett holds him and tearfully says “Your name is Kunta Kitna.” That moment was not scripted but Gossett reacting to the moment.

  2. i’m curious on how this will be remade

  3. Jake Gyllenhaal for Kunta Kinte!!!!!!!

    • He’s Prince of Persia already… oh, wait! no…

  4. I hope they will keep the iconic opening.

  5. Levar Burton needs to be in this remake also

  6. This is a terrible idea.

  7. awe s#$t its time for history channel to break new levels of awesomeness and cast jim carrey as kunta kinte. Don’t drop the ball on this history channel. He was born for this part

  8. How could they think of doing this movie without O.J. Simpson?

    • lol

  9. You know, while I didn’t think it would be long for racist comments to appear on this one, I also didn’t expect nearly every one to be a racist comment. There should be a miniseries about these guys. Call it, “A Band of Idiots”.

    • @Samurai – I’m not sure your definition of “racist” is the same as the dictionary’s? If you’re referring to people joking about casting Jim Carrey or Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead role as racist, then I suggest you turn your eyes upon Hollywood who routinely casts white actors in ethnic roles – Depp as Tonto anyone?

      People need to stop yelling “racist” at every turn. It cheapens the word and essentially makes it meaningless.

      Paul Young

      • Thanks Paul, but I don’t think I’ll need to be consulting any dictionaries anytime soon. Out of context, yes, it would appear that my comment jumps the gun. But the attitudes that trend on these boards provides a precedent for my assumption. I cannot count how many times I’ve read comments on here from people seriously suggesting white actors be cast as black historical figures in their hilariously misguided attempts to decry the casting of black actors as fictional superheroes they’d prefer stay white. This, indeed, is racist. So while it can be argued that I made an unfair comparison, it CANNOT be argued that the precedent for it does not exist as a commonality on screenrant threads.

  10. So they want to keep reminding people about Africans/African Americans being slaves but nothing about the great accomplishments in TRUE African American History and Ancient Africa, and the other things that go swept under the rug. Typical Hollywood racism.

    • Roots is the brainchild of Alex Haley. Was he racist like the Hollywood machine? This story represents triumph over adversity more than anything else, which is a running theme inherent any slave story that is not, say, something along the lines of Birth of a Nation.