The issue of there needing to be a broader spectrum of Black stories portrayed on television and in film is valid, but separate from whether or not the story of Roots needs to be told again.
As far as I'm concerned, you cannot tell the story of Roots too many times. Of all the ugliness through which our nation was forged, what was done to Black people and the Native Americans is arguably the ugliest.
The people who say they are tired of seeing these stories are being too myopic. It's not just about them and their generation. It may be an old story for them, but it is new to younger generations. Of these people that have already consumed Roots for themselves and complain about the re-telling of Roots, how many of them are sharing the story of Roots with younger people? Some, but I'm sure many don't.
How many people of the younger generations have seen the original Roots from 1977? As I watched the series, I followed #Roots on Twitter and it appeared that many people who watched have not seen the original. The story pretty much followed the plot points of the original but you could tell by people's tweets that they didn't know what was going to happen. So there were many new people coming to the story of Roots, and that is a good thing.
One particular reason I welcome the Roots remake is the difference between TV practices and standards in 1977 and 2016. I was in 3rd grade when the original Roots came out, and make no mistake, it was jarring and the violence was disturbing. But as disturbing as what was portrayed in 1977 was, it only hinted at the the cruel and inhumane way the slaves were treated. It only gave lower grade samples of the sheer brutality of the institution of slavery. That is what I found most disturbing when I saw 12 Years A Slave. The way they shot the brutality of the rapes, and the whippings, and the disregard of the slaves as human beings was horrifying.
In this remake, when they are whipping Kunte Kinte to break him and force him to accept his new name of Toby, the ferocity of this new scene far eclipses what was already a truly barbaric scene in the 1977 production. The difference between the way the 1977 and 2016 productions portrayed Kizzy's first rape is startling. All people need to see the naked brutality. That's what it was. This is what was being done to human beings. It is a world of difference when you can show the brutality in 2016 that you had to more so imply in 1977. It is one thing to know as a fact that there was constant intimidation, or sexual violence, or whippings and lynchings. It is quite another to see it portrayed in all its viciousness. In the 2016 production, when you see a pregnant slave collapse while she is working in the cotton field and her last act is to deliver her baby from her dying body, it hurts your heart and makes your blood boil. Don't get me wrong, Roots 1977 did a great job of bringing the barbarity of slavery to the forefront. But because of the more flexible TV standards of today, Roots 2016 is really able to hit you between the eyes with the savage reality of slavery.
We live in a time where the centuries long struggles of Black people in America are getting reduced to a simplified narrative with several recognized sign posts; Slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation, Segregation, Jackie Robinson breaking the baseball color line, Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat, MLK 'I have a dream', President Lyndon Johnson passing civil rights legislation, Integration, Barack Obama getting elected. Too much is glossed over. People are too quick to render judgments that Black people should be further along than they are because they are short selling the long term effects of slavery (and reconstruction, and Jim Crow, etc). The fact that the reparations conversation is such a non-starter in this country only demonstrates that the effects of this evil institution with its centuries long reach is not fully understood or accepted by many.
As epic a stain on our nation's fabric as slavery is, don't think that it can't be told through a revisionist voice, that the story can't get softened up or diluted. In 2011, 60 Minutes did a story about an Alabama publisher of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn censoring all instances of the word "nigger" from the text, replacing it with the word slave.
60 Minutes segment on the sanitized edition of Huckleberry Finn
In 2010, the Texas State Board of Education voted for a new social studies curriculum whose guidelines have no mention of the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow. The curriculum also teaches that slavery was only a peripheral issue to the American Civil War (Texas officials: Schools should teach that slavery was 'side issue' to Civil War).
The story of Roots, and the stories of the historic struggles of all peoples need to be told over and over again. Just like in the actual story of Roots itself. Kunta Kinte made sure he told his daughter Kizzy about where he was from, his family, his culture. Each generation in Roots told the next generation about the story of the old African, Kunta Kinte; where he was born, his tribe, his village name, the name of the river near where he grew up, and the African words he taught Kizzy. In the original production of Roots, when Chicken George is leaving his family to go to England, Kizzy asks him to tell his kids the story of the old African one more time before he goes. If they weren't telling the story over and over and over again, passing along the tale of their family's journey through oral history, we wouldn't even have the story of Roots.
As far as some of the Roots 2016 detractors' gripes that the people who profited from the system of slavery are also profiting from this remake of Roots... So what?? The so-called "They" profit from everything. They profit from the romantic comedies, the super hero flicks, the mob movies, the animated films, the period pieces, and on and on. They profit from every story being told. It is "their" mass media system. We are all operating in "their" matrix. So we should cut off our historic nose to spite their financial face?? You know what?... they profit from Love & Hip Hop, and Real Housewives, and Soul Plane too. So since they profit from everything, I would just as soon see them profit from a story that Black people need to see. That everybody needs to see.
I don't understand why some Black people view these particular stories about the Black experience through a lens of shame or scorn. I often hear sentiments like, "why do we always have to see these jacked up stories about our people?" The shame of those stories is on the oppressors. The pride in those stories belongs to the Black people portrayed in Roots, or 12 Years A Slave, or The Help. Yes, they were treated abominably and done dirty and forced to live a meager inhuman existence. And guess what?... Black people are still here! These are not just stories of degradation, These are stories of perseverance. That is a source of pride, not shame. What I would tell people of color who don't want to see these stories told over and over again, is that the one group of people who want that more than they do is their oppressor. They would love to let the fervor over what happened to your people die down. They would love if you forgot and stopped talking about one of the most shameful things they ever did and have yet to properly address and rectify.
Native Americans don't ever want people to forget how the U.S. Federal government nearly achieved the complete and systematic genocide of their people. I don't hear Jewish people ever say that they're tired of seeing stories about the Holocaust. Never ever. They have a slogan to underscore this. "Never Forget." I don't see why it should be any different for Black people. Or any people and their struggles. Steven Spielberg spearheads the Shoah Foundation project; recording the personal testimony of as many living Holocaust survivors as possible before they die. Recording them so their stories can be told and viewed over and over and over and forever. Bravo!
Holocaust Survivor Shoah Testimony
I guess people are conditioned to endure the strife that exists in their lifetime. I can't imagine being able to live through one day as a slave, or one day during segregation in the deep south. Or in the 1960s, being brave enough to stare down the fire hoses and attack dogs of Police Chief Bull Connor in Birmingham or be one of the Freedom Riders being pulled off of interstate coach buses and getting beaten to a pulp. And maybe in 50 years there will be Black people that can't imagine going through the things that I go through. I suppose that's progress. But progress goes hand in hand with not forgetting what came before. The perspective of history.
Police dogs and fire hoses attack Black children civil rights protesters
Snoop Dogg says that people should boycott Roots 2016. In addition to his comments being wrong and on the verge of being irresponsible, I feel he has no standing to say anything about Roots 2016. He walked the MTV Video Music Awards red carpet with Black women on leashes. Change the background and make the person holding the leashes a white man and you have a scene that could actually be in Roots. He could be a slave trader walking slaves for review at a slave auction. Throughout the generations portrayed in Roots, we see how immeasureable and important the strength of Black women was, and is. Meanwhile, Snoop is friends with a pimp. He glorifies a pimp. An actual pimp. He contributes to making Bishop Don Magic Juan some kind of hood celeb. Snoop is part of the problem. He is in the entertainment business, he has an audience, he has money, and influence, and contacts. Is he developing or investing in one of these other stories he wants to see? What is he doing besides talking trash about other people who are producing an update of a story that should never be forgotten? Snoop can report to the doghouse with this foolishness.
Snoop Dogg's comments on Roots 2016
I feel that some Black people pushing back on Roots 2016 say we need more diverse Black stories other than slave or civil rights narratives as if we don't have any other type of stories being told. I completely agree that we do need more diverse stories, and more often, but there are other Black stories being told.
But ok, let's accept people's pushback on Roots 2016, that we need more diverse Black stories. How many Black folks made sure they saw the Tuskegee Airmen movie, Red Tails, the same way they lined up for a Dark Knight movie? How many people made sure they came out to see the recent Jesse Owens biopic, Race, the same way they were on deck to see the latest Marvel movie? How many people came out to support Denzel when he made The Great Debaters versus the numbers that came out to see him in Training Day? How many people went to see Pride, Terence Howard's movie about a 1970s Black swim team, vs. the number of people that went to see Hustle & Flow and came out the theater singing "It's hard out here for a pimp", or versus the number of people that watch Empire every week?
We don't need more diverse Black stories because there are too many slave or segregation stories being told. We need more diverse stories and images being told because of nonsense like Snoop celebrating pimps and walking Black women down a red carpet like golden retrievers. We need more diverse stories being told because of websites like MediaTakeout and WorldStarHipHop, and television shows like Basketball Wives, and Bad Girls Club. Because "Ratchet TV" is now an actual and popular genre of television.
We don't need more diverse Black stories because we see too many civil rights stories. We need more diverse Black stories because some brothers would rather go floss at the strip club and make it rain instead of picking that money up off the floor and buying some stock or real estate so they can create legacy wealth.
We don't need more diverse Black stories because there are too many stories about the oppression of Black people. We need more diverse stories because some people can wait on the other side of a velvet rope to get into some cheesy club. Because they wait overnight for the new Air Jordans (I can't believe people still do that). Because they wait on the ticket line, the ticket holder line, the popcorn line, to see the latest blockbuster movie. But they don't wait 10 minutes or 30 minutes or however long it takes once every couple of years to vote and participate in elections.
We don't need more diverse Black stories because the story of Roots is being told too many times. We need more diverse Black stories because too many people can diagram the story of the static between Drake and Meek Mill, or remember the beefs between 50 Cent and damn near everybody, or recount the history of the Nas & Jay-Z battle, or the latest catfight between NeNe Leakes and whomever. But they can't offer you the same detail about the issues and progression of this current Presidential election cycle.
I see criticisms online from mostly people my age or older who saw the 1977 broadcast about what was omitted from this 2016 production. And honestly, I wish this remake was as many hours as the 1977 original. But on balance, I liked what I saw and I am glad that the story is being told to a new and younger audience; an audience that may not know LeVar Burton, John Amos, Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen or Louis Gossett Jr. If an updated cast piques young people's interest and gets them to learn the story, I am all for it. From what I saw on Twitter every night, the younger audience that watched was eating it up.
Yes, Roots is just one story. There are indeed endless stories of the Black experience. But if a re-telling of Roots serves as a jump off point and sparks the interest of younger people to seek out other stories and learn more as well as keep the story of Roots alive, I don't see how that could ever be a bad thing. And it's not just about them watching Roots. It's also about creating a new event where all these young people are learning about this story at the same time and communal conversation arising from that.
We need Roots. We need other stories too, but we will always need Roots. Over and over and forever.