Nearly forty years later, Roots has been brought back to the forefront of American television. When it was announced last year that this was being done after nearly 40 years, I and many others in the Black community wondered why this was needed. In the 2 nights thus far, terms like ‘critical acclaim’ and ‘thought provoking’ have been bandied about because, honestly, how can you bad mouth a story about a dark part of America which still affects us today? As much as some of us hate re-imaginings, remakes and reboots, there is a reason why unfortunately stories like Roots needs to be told and that is to keep people from forgetting.
I recently read what Snoop Dogg said about why he is boycotting Roots. He is very much on point with his opinion:
“They just want to keep showing us the abuse that we took hundreds and hundreds of years ago. But guess what – we’re taking the same abuse. Think about that part. Why don’t y’all go and make a muthafuckin’ series about the success that black folks is having?”
I wholeheartedly agree that we need to stop retreading old ground with movies like 12 Years a Slave, The Help, and even the TV series, The Underground. I would love to see more movies about many of the medical breakthroughs that we were pivotal in making, the inventions that we created that brought America into the 20th century and even movie about the great kingdoms in Mali and the Songhai Empire, but let Hollywood tell you, we won’t draw crowds. This is why there is a dearth of certain movies being ever made or worse, when they are, they are heavily whitewashed. Yes, I am still side eyeing you Gods of Egypt.
For every slave narrative made, there is a story that can be created about people who built learning centers in Timbuktu. For every documentary that talks about the Civil War, more modern ones can be made about the findings of Dr. Ivan Van Sertima in his quest to show that we were here before Columbus. For every Stephen King, there is a Ta-Nehisi Coates. But, again, there is a reason why stories such as Roots are still a necessary evil in today’s narrative and my colleague Armand made it clear in his review; because stories like Roots are not for us in the Black community. Some of you may have read that last statement and turned your head to the side, perplexed. To echo what Mr. Hill said, many of us know the story of Roots. Even if we don’t know it blow by blow, quote for quote, we know the bottom line. A young man was kidnapped from his home, like so many million others brought across the ocean in the Middle Passage and forced into a life of slavery. He was subjected to sub-human treatment where he did as much as possible to preserve his heritage, and raised a family in this country where his slavers did as much as they possibly could to force him to forget his identity. No matter how many ways this story and many others are told, there is no happy ending because the beginning middle and end are mostly the same. There is no way that anything positive comes out of this story. It’s hard for any person of color to watch this and not get angry. It’s hard to watch and not feel like you are seeing something new because, you aren’t.
However, we still need stories like these, because we are living in a time where people believe that we are so far removed from the 1700’s and 1800’s that they are actually trying to erase the past. There have been entire school districts where if they aren’t teaching the curriculum at all, they are trying to downplay the role of slavery. I hate to break it to you, but we were NOT migrant workers. We did not come here on our own looking for a new life. There are still many places in America where one can’t go without having to deal with those who don’t like people because they look different. There are still places where Black people can be lynched just because…yet it’s called a suicide. It’s even harder to believe (or is it?) that 8 years after we finally elected the first Black president, we are looking at a candidate who has brought the worst out of people in this country, but then let’s back up. In the 8 years of Obama’s presidency, we have had the most unproductive Congress ever, and more than enough times, members have ‘slipped’ and reminded us that they are not happy that a Black man is in the Oval office. There are still many who would rather be blind to the idea and never acknowledge that sadly, race still affects us deeply in many ways in this country, from where we live, to whom we marry even down to how we are treated by police. As much as it would be nice to move away from slave narratives like Roots, as much as we would like to see discussions of race become an antiquated idea, people still need reminders that improving the future has been slow when it comes to being equal is concerned. I want to see more stories about some of the great kings and queens, I want to see more stories of scientific breakthroughs, and exploration because we need these stories to be told just as well to let people know that we are more than just a sad period in Hollywood. Even after 400+ years, we are still a long way from people of color being given the same treatment and respect that many others get even on the big screen. Roots, is still a reminder that those who consciously choose to ignore history, are doomed to repeat it. I am trying hard to finish it. It’s a bitter pill going down but it’s needed to make sure that the history of why we are where we are now is never forgotten.