John Amos On 'Roots' Remake: 'I Don’t Think People Are Quite As Interested'

The veteran "Roots" actor shares his candid thoughts on The History Channel's upcoming reboot.
John Amos gets candid about "Roots" remake.
John Amos gets candid about "Roots" remake.
ABC Photo Archives via Getty Images

The 40th anniversary of "Roots" is in January 2017, and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has decided to give the award-winning miniseries a digital makeover with the Blu-ray and Digital HD release of " Roots: The Complete Original Series."

Starring an all-star cast including John Amos, LeVar Burton, Ben Vereen, Louis Gossett Jr., Maya Angelou and Cicely Tyson, the eight-part miniseries -- which was adapted from Alex Haley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning best seller Roots: The Saga Of An American Family -- follows the family legacy of an 18th century African warrior, Kunta Kinte (played by LeVar Burton), who is brought to the United States and sold into slavery.

For Amos, who portrayed the role of the adult Kunta “Toby” Kinte, the award-winning miniseries not only taught him about the traumatic effects slavery has on the separation of black families, but also how Haley’s story resonated with so many viewers.

"I learned so many things as a result of 'Roots.' I think the main thing that I felt and the biggest impression made on me was the effect that it had on the entire population, regardless of people's ethnic background," Amos told The Huffington Post. "'Roots' was something that a lot of people didn't really know the story or the idea of slavery and the ramifications that slavery provided on a global basis. I don’t think people really knew that until 'Roots' was developed and shown on television."

At the time of its original airing on ABC in January 1977, the series netted an estimated 140 million viewers, making it the most-watched television program at the time. The cultural milestone would later prompt The History Channel to acquire rights to the classic miniseries and book in 2013. On May 30, a four-night series event is scheduled to premiere on the network and simulcast on A&E and Lifetime.

Since the network’s announcement of the upcoming remake, which "will draw both on the book and the original miniseries from a contemporary perspective," some critics have raised a few concerns regarding the interpretation of the reboot.

As for whether or not the revamped version has potential on repeating award-winning history of its own, Amos is less than doubtful.

"I guess it will be contingent upon how well it's done, but I don't think it's gonna have the same impact for a number of reasons," he said. "One, the circumstances that 'Roots' was originally shown under was totally different circumstances than today. Today there seems to be tremendously more programming that has black subject matter and black characters, both on the screen and behind the scenes, than it existed with the development of the original. So much time has passed. I think there's a great deal of apathy about the subject matter. I don't think people are quite as interested. We had so many things going for us that made it such a unique and popular experience. One, the subject matter never [had] been delved into before. Two, it was derived from an international best seller… so there were a number of things that led 'Roots' to being the incredibly popular program it was."

The 76-year-old actor went on to add that The History Channel's decision to remake the hit series is "further evidence, for the most part, that Hollywood is creatively bankrupt. They have to keep going back to what's been done and what’s successful because they're pretty much out of fresh ideas."

However, his former co-star and executive producer of the remake, LeVar Burton told The Hollywood Reporter in April that the need to bring the series back into the national limelight lends itself to the fact that the story is "part and parcel of the civilization of this planet" and needs to be retold "so we don't repeat it."

In the future, Amos says he would like to see additional slave driven narratives, such as Steve McQueen's "12 Years A Slave," developed and included in the national scholastic curriculum for children.

"I think the more open people have become with it and realize that it was an institution that helped build this country and help build the economic foundation of this country and so many countries around the world, there might be a better understanding and a better appreciation of the contributions made by African-Americans and Africans in general to the world's economy," he added.

“Roots: The Complete Original Series” will be available on Blu-ray disc on June 7 and Digital HD on May 16.

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