The original mini-series “Roots” was about history, and it was history itself. Airing on ABC in January 1977, this generational saga of slavery was a kind of answer song to the 1976 Bicentennial celebration of the (white, often slave-owning) founding fathers. It reopened the books and wrote slaves and their descendants into the national narrative.
But as an event, it was also a chapter in that story. It shaped and was shaped by the racial consciousness of its era. It was a prime-time national reckoning for more than 100 million viewers. As a television drama, it was excellent. But as a television broadcast, it was epochal.
The four-night, eight-hour remake of “Roots,” beginning Memorial Day on History, A&E and Lifetime, is largely the same story, compressed in some places and expanded in others, with a lavish production and strong performances. It is every bit as worthy of attention and conversation. But it is also landing, inevitably, in a very different time.
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