If you ask random people on the street which character they remember from the original Roots miniseries that took the world by storm in 1977, they invariably answer Kunta Kinte. The character drives the multifaceted narrative, not least because of the extraordinary actors who played him — LeVar Burton played Kunta Kinte as a teenager and John Amos played him as an adult. What may be one of the finest shared roles in filmmaking history was young LeVar Burton’s acting debut.
Burton is the co-executive producer of the new Roots, appearing on The History Channel 40 years later. Why did Roots need to be remade? Why attempt to update — and potentially harm — a seminal classic? Burton gives a simple answer: “There was a who generation of kids out there for whom the original was old and was dated,” Burton says (see below). As an educator, Burton knew it was a situation that needed remedying, the Roots story too important to sit silent again as it had for centuries before 1977. Burton went onto star in more iconic work, including Star Trek: The Next Generation. But it has been Burton’s role as an educator as much as an actor which has left an imprint on society. (He is the host of the “Reading Rainbow” series.) Burton’s desire to remake Roots stirs out of that education instinct — and also, one suspects, from an instinct always to learn more. On Twitter Burton describes himself humbly as “Actor, Director, Educator” and “Student”.
Burton an the cast talk about what it took to make the new version of Roots: