The Roots 2016 miniseries has begun, and expectations are already high following the first episode. The series will air the remaining six hours over the next three nights to parallel the original’s broadcast—and like that same original, the show and its cast is receiving a lot of attention. So, who is in the modern Roots cast? What channel is Roots on? Read on for information about the Roots 2016 cast, schedule, and history leading up to its creation.
Cast of Roots 2016
The cast of the Roots 2016 remake mixes unknowns with established stars, much like the original and its sequel did back in the ‘70s. Well-known celebrities featured include Laurence Fishburne as Alex Haley, and therefore also the narrator (Haley wrote the novel on which these miniseries were based); Anna Paquin as Nancy Holt, the wife of a Confederate soldier; Forest Whitaker as Fiddler, a slave who trains Kunta and teaches him English; and Matthew Goode as Dr. William Waller, the brother of Kunta’s owner.
Other members of the cast include Anika Noni Rose as Kizzy, Emayatzy Corinealdi as Belle, Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Tom Lea, Chad L. Coleman as Mingo, and Rege-Jean Page as Chicken George. However, in a mirror to the original 1977 version, most of the praise after the first episode has gone to unknown star Malachi Kirby, who plays Kunta Kinte. LaVar Burton received similar praise when he took on the role for the original miniseries.
Part two of the Roots 2016 remake airs tonight (May 31) at 9:00 p.m. EST on A&E, the History Channel, Lifetime, and the Lifetime Movie Network, with a re-airing of part one preceding it at 7:00 p.m. EST. These repeats will continue over the following two nights with part three following parts one and two tomorrow and the entire series being broadcast back-to-back on Thursday. That means plenty of chances to catch this major and perhaps important hit remake.
Original Roots Legacy
Credit: Roots (TV Mini Series)
The original Roots aired in 1977, a year after the publication of the book it was based on: Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family. It is the tale of Kunta Kinte, an African taken to the U.S. to be used as a slave, and his life. The story eventually goes on to detail the lives of Kunta’s descendants, ending with Haley himself; the author states that Kunta Kinte is based on an actual ancestor and that the story of a mix of truth and fiction.
The 1977 series almost never saw the light of day as its network, ABC, was hesitant after they saw how it included rapes, whippings, and lynchings. As the series’ filming and production was already complete, ABC still chose to air but to get it over with as fast as possible, broadcasting it over eight consecutive evenings. But despite their fears and attempts to hide the series, it ended up becoming a huge hit, winning nine Emmys (with 37 nominations), a Golden Globe, and a Peabody Award. The finale also holds the records for third-highest Nielsen ratings of any TV episode ever and second-most watched series finale in the history of the U.S.
A sequel, Roots: The Next Generations, would air in 1979 and also won several awards. A Christmas TV special followed in 1988. While the sequel had a more prolific cast due to a larger budget and stars wanting to piggyback on the success of the original, the most significant performance was that of LaVar Burton in the original as the younger Kunta Kinte. Aside from being so well received, it was also Burton’s very first role before going on to be better remembered for playing Geordi LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation and being the host of Reading Rainbow.
But while Geordi LaForge is blind, LaVar Burton is not, and he and executive producer Mark Wolper saw that the original was unknown to today’s younger generations and too dated for them to care. As Burton told The Daily Beast, “Mark realized if he was ever going to get his kids, and by proxy the generation that his children represent, to watch Roots, to embrace this story, that it had to be retold in the storytelling language that they understood.”