We’re in the midst of a Black Renaissance within film and television and while there’s still a long road ahead, Black people are learning the power that comes with defining your own narrative.
Inspired by the best-selling novel penned by Alex Haley, the iconic miniseries Roots chronicles the progress of his own family across several generations including the kidnapping of an African warrior by American slave traders to post-Civil War freedom.
In 1977, the groundbreaking series broke records when it was viewed by around 140 million viewers which made up half the U.S. population at the time making it one of the most viewed television series in the nation’s history.
Now, 45 years later, Roots serves as the inspiration for not only the importance of sharing stories that speak to the rich history of Black people, but as the catalyst for why it’s even more pivotal to share those “ugly truths” that are oftentimes hard to watch.
To commemorate yet another landmark anniversary for the series, Shadow and Act sat down with veterans John Amos, who portrayed the adult version of Kunta Kinte/Toby in the series and Louis Gossett Jr., who played Fiddler, to discuss how their perception of the series has changed over the years, and the impact that Roots has had on generations throughout the years.
John Amos on how his perception of this legendary and culturally defining series changed in the last 45 years
It’s changed only to the degree that my original convictions have been reinforced, that is that the educational value of a mini-series like Roots is being confirmed.It’s being questioned.
Some schools are making moves to eliminate any recitation of slavery or that period in the country’s history from the schoolbooks. In other words, eliminated like it never happened so that in itself notes how important Roots was, and is. If anything we should be making a concerted effort as a country and as educated people and people who wish to provide our children with the best education, to reinforce the importance of Roots and other programming to show the contributions and sacrifices made by all of the people who have come to the United States in hopes of having a good life in America whether they came forced through slavery or through some other means of immigration.
We’re on a very dangerous slope, I feel, when schools start talking about eliminating the history, the true history of our country in hopes of providing it with a better cosmetic look.
Louis Gossett Jr. on if is there an unknown fact about Roots that can speak to the impact it's had across several generations?
Before Roots if you did some story that was relevant, that was like Roots, you weren’t going to work in town anymore.
That was a revolutionary feeling that we’re able to express ourselves without losing work. That some of the top in television could tell once and for all the actual story of Roots. We didn’t suffer from not working, we got a lot of work instead and that made me grow.
We’ve grown to such a place now that they’re asking me to see it again. That’s positive for me. I know there’s people wanting to get rid of Roots and other stories of slavery on television and film, that’s not going to work. The kids watching know more than what is being held from them. The kids have taken over. They want to know more. This computer has educated your generation to the extent that you want to know better news than what you can see on television.
Watch the interview below: