Recently, a new adaptation of Roots premiered on The History Channel, telling the classic story of Kunta Kinte and his struggle for freedom in the South. The show was produced on a $50 Million dollar budget and has garnered critical praise and excellent rating for the network. These stories obviously exist in Black History but do we need any more content based on our oppression? Is there anything being told in the remake that wasn’t told in the original series? Are these stories empowering? Is it meant to teach us history? Is it meant to reinforce our current oppression?
Knowing the history and impact of The Slave Trade is crucial, not just for Black people, but for the entire world. It adds context to the present and allows us to shape the future. Studying and analyzing what happened to African people enslaved here in the United States shows us how systematic oppression has impoverished and marginalized African-Americans for hundreds of years. Understanding what happened, why it happened, how it happened, looking at the micro and macro effects and dramatizing the narrative is important. We have to look at these stories with a critical lens, though. Telling these stories through literature, film and TV allow us to visualize the horror.
Is it problematic for this content to be entertaining?
Like the Holocaust narrative, I think everything that needed to be said, has been said. Unless new perspectives are being introduced (see: Birth Of A Nation) then I think we can start exploring new stories. I would love it if Ava Duvernay wanted to tell the story of a Moor’s Society, or The Haitian Revolution. I’m excited to see the story of Nat Turner’s Rebellion directed and written by Nat Parker. The Slave Narrative may still have stories to tell, but those remaining stories are centered around resistance and uprisings. Roots and Underground serve a purpose, but that shouldn’t be the only content we create, star in, or consume.
Having a Roots remake would be fine if we also had a show based on Afrofuturism, with Black space-travellers. There needs to be a bend in the direction of the latter. We need more science fiction created by and for black people. This will allow us to start imagining ourselves in the future, creating our own reality and controlling our own destiny.
Slavery is a part of our history, but like John Henrik Clarke said, our history is older than slavery and older than our oppression. We can continue to have slave narratives, but we need space narratives and ancient African narratives, and Black slice-of-life narratives too. All of these things are necessary. Especially, those that allow us to look towards our future.