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Is the 'Roots' remake needed?

Posted June 6

The remake of iconic miniseries "Roots" began this Memorial Day weekend, drawing admirers and critics alike.

Some Twitter users expressed their frustration that the miniseries is just another product that "doesn't need" to be remade. Even original cast member Cicely Tyson said she felt "Roots" was a classic and as such should be "left alone." Others, like rapper Snoop Dogg, called for a boycott of "Roots" and other slavery narratives on the grounds that more movies should be made about black people succeeding in life rather than being oppressed.

But many others, including original cast member-turned-producer LeVar Burton, said the new version is relevant and needed.

"The timing — against a cultural backdrop of #OscarsSoWhite and the Black Lives Matter movement — brings a new perspective to the story of 'Roots,'" the Daily Beast reported. "But the power of the story, too, is how the perspective doesn’t change."

But it's more than remembering America's ugly past, because slavery is still alive and well the world over. The Global Slavery Index reported this week, according to the International Business Times, that an estimated 45.8 million people live in slavery in 167 countries.

“It’s not just pop culture,” as The Daily Beast quoted Anika Noni Rose, who plays Kizzy in the new series. “It’s our heritage, our past. And it’s our present.”

It's not a topic Hollywood often concerns itself with, some argue.

"There continues to be a deep-seated American cultural discomfort with slavery," Stephane Dunn wrote for The Atlantic. "Neither the financial success of 'Birth of a Nation' at Sundance nor the critical success of 'Twelve Years a Slave' and 'Underground' has yet led to a sustained national discussion and interrogation of this discomfort."

Whatever the implications of a remake of "Roots," Dunn is hoping a new generation will benefit from the miniseries as she did: If not with words, then an indescribable feeling of how deeply America erred with slavery and how its legacy continues today.

"I did not know enough or have words big enough to think about the myriad implications of 'Roots' back in 1977, but I felt it," Dunn wrote. "I felt it and never forgot it."

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: ChandraMJohnson

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