01x06 - Roots: A New Vision

Omoro: You must hear your name first.

You are Kunta Kinte, son of Omoro and Binta Kinte.

Your name is your spirit.

Your name is your shield.

narrator: From 18th century Africa to the American slave trade, to the Civil War, Roots is the story of oppression, resistance--

No Toby, Kunta Kinte.

narrator: and survival.

My daddy took whippings night and day to protect his name!

narrator: Now, a new vision for a new generation.

The new generation, it is important for them to understand that part of our history, and also what would be exposed and shown that hadn't been shown before.

How did Roots author Alex Haley first get the nation's attention?

It's not just his story, or her story, it's our story.

Our story of Americans: the good, the bad, the ugly.

All of it.

narrator: Why was his classic remade now?

With the technology today, there's a lot more that can be done with the story.

We hope that we can tell it in a way that's more textured.

narrator: A quest for authenticity.

From a historical point of view, there's a goldmine of info available to us now that wasn't available when Alex was doing the original research.

narrator: Behind the curtain of an American saga.

Run!

(dramatic orchestral music)

Fire!

(typewriter tapping)

(acoustic guitar music)

narrator: In 1976, author Alex Haley wrote a novel that made history.

He'd gone to Africa to trace his lineage, unthinkable at the time, and uncovered the story of Kunta Kinte.

Haley believed he was descended from a young man who had been enslaved and brought to America in the 1700s.

Following the Kinte family for six generations and many decades, Haley's book, "Roots," was a revelation.

This part of history wasn't always taught thoroughly in school.

You didn't really get into the nitty gritty of slavery and the slave trade and just all of the aspects of it.

So, for the first time ever, America found out about a part of its history that had been sort of hush-hush for many years.

narrator: Published in the shadow of the 1960s, a transformative but turbulent time for race in America, the book had a profound effect.

It was a real conversation starter for Americans.

narrator: Roots spent 22 weeks in the number one spot on the New York Times Bestsellers List.

It won both the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize.

But while the impact of the book was impressive, nothing could prepare the world for what happened when the words came to life.

I remember my parents sitting me down and saying, "We're about to watch something that's gonna give you great context into your history."

It caught the imagination of all Americans.

It just took everybody by storm.

Roots had a major impact on society.

I remember just the massive discussion.

Everybody spoke about it, which I really hadn't witnessed before.

narrator: The audience grew as word spread, culminating in a record-breaking finale that drew over 36 million people.

People sat down night after night after night after night and talked about it the next day.

narrator: Roots was a phenomenon.

A staggering 71% of all televisions in the country tuned in to the finale, making it the most-watched mini-series in history.

There's an emotional connection, no matter who you are, if you're white, black, Asian, latino.

I remember being moved and scared and appalled, and shocked by it.

We'd never seen slavery examined on television before.

That was eye-opening, liberating and inspiring all at once.

The impact that the original had on society globally was amazing.

If it hadn't, I don't think we'd be trying to retell it now.

And action!

(ambient music)

narrator: In 2015, History began production on a new vision for Roots, and many asked the same question.

When this came about, I thought, "Why? (laughs)

"Why are we doing this again?"

Why would you redo something that was so iconic?

This has been a long journey for me.

Roots began many years ago when I was a kid, my father produced the first Roots.

Many, many times over the years, many, many people have come to us and said, "Please, let us do Roots. We wanna do Roots again."

And I've said no for 30 years.

And it wasn't until one day I sat my children down to watch the original Roots, that their grandfather had done, and they couldn't watch it.

It was too old-fashioned for them.

It was shot in a different way.

It didn't work for them.

And it was in that moment that I realized that's why we have to do Roots again.

narrator: Wolper's move to update the storytelling by bringing in the latest cameras, CGI, and editing techniques was tailored for a new generation.

Slave Trader: Fresh off the boat, isn't he, boys?

You will notice that midnight hue, the sizable feet.

Rare opportunity to purchase lifelong laborers and natural breeders.

The way we tell stories has changed immensely since the first one was made.

The lens through which we see this story, the lens through which we see ourselves, all of that has changed massively since the '70s.

You wouldn't teach history with a textbook from the 1970s.

You have to update those stories as our knowledge and our sense of ourselves as a people and a society updates.

The reason that we have to do it, and we have to do it now, is because there is a whole generation out there, they don't truly know this story.

This generation has very little if any detailed knowledge about the history of African Americans, how we got here, what our ancestors went through in order for us to make it to the place where we are now.

(ambient music)

We gotta tell this story the right way.

As a black man in America, I felt the weight of getting this story completed accurately.

So, in telling Roots again, one of the critical things for us to do is to tell it more accurately than it was told the first time.

So, we've taken information from nine different historians, the most recent, up-to-date, historically accurate information.

narrator: With the help of their research team, the production was able to apply 40-plus years of scholarship to create a deeper, richer understanding of the world in which that novel takes place.

That research began with Kunta Kinte's home, Juffure in West Africa.

The first inconsistency I saw in the original film when I started to work on this again was that Juffure in the 18th century was a large town.

This city, according to the archaeological studies, had four entrances, with a wall around it.

The village of Juffure was not a little grass-shacked village of 20 or 30 or 50 people.

It was a city of 10,000 people.

So this was a really major change in what we had before.

This is showing Kunta Kinte as an urban person, rather than a rural person.

So, when Alex Haley went, he was just seeing little bits of pieces of this area, unaware there had been a whole city.

So, Alex wrote what he saw and knew at the time, not realizing that it was this major community.

History's a living thing.

(slow piano music)

narrator: In the original, Kunta Kinte's people were depicted as isolated, with little knowledge of Europeans.

But the true location of Juffure, which still exists, suggests a different dynamic altogether.

So this particular society, unlike interior societies in Africa, had major contact with Europeans.

There were white people all through, Europeans all through this village.

The slaves were not rounded up by the Europeans.

They were purchased from African salesmen.

If the Europeans came in and took people, they'd be run out.

narrator: Another major discovery was that horses were central to the lives of the Mandinka warriors.

Although absent from the original production, horses were an essential historical element woven throughout the new version.

Horses have been in the Savannah region of West Africa since the 9th century.

They were brought in by Berber traders from the north from the Atlas Mountains.

(horse whinnies)

You have far to go if you want be called a Mandinka warrior.

This horse could feel your fear, because you are only thinking of yourselves, not about the horse.

narrator: The mission to be as accurate as possible is part of a bigger initiative to keep the narrative vital for future viewers.

The story of the slave trade is not one that we should forget.

Not unlike the Holocaust, part of the reason that people retell that story over and over and over again is to ensure that people don't forget what happened.

No one should forget about the slave trade and the victims of the slave trade.

Our individual stories based on our heritage are almost like skeletons for us.

And you can't stand up without a skeleton.

(dramatic orchestral music)

narrator: Coming up, finding the right actor for Kunta Kinte, then and now.

LeVar: We knew we had to find somebody special.

narrator: And, a look at the Kinte family in America.

My daddy took whippings to protect his name.

narrator: And their struggle to keep their identity.

Behold, the only thing that is greater than you.

Well, it all began with Kunta Kinte.

Kunta Kinte began telling a story, sharing his story, and insisting that each generation tell the story.

And each generation did tell that story.

(ambient music)

narrator: In 1975, the producers of the original Roots set out to find their Kunta Kinte.

After an exhaustive search, the role went to an unknown, a student at USC named LeVar Burton.

Roots didn't just change my view.

The experience of being in Roots has shaped who I am on so many levels.

My very first day as a professional actor, Cicely Tyson played my mother.

Maya Angelou played my grandmother.

I worked with Louis Gosset Jr.

I was a kid, I was 19.

So, when we started this new version of Roots, we decided we had to find another fresh face, somebody new for it.

Across three continents, 17 cities, 600 filmed auditions of 6,000 different people, we tracked it down to our new Kunta Kinte.

You look familiar.

You speak Mandinka, but you're not one of us.

Yes, I think I have seen you.

You are the boy of Omoro Kinte.

Run!

narrator: When young British actor Malachi Kirby was cast in the iconic role, LeVar Burton flew to South Africa to meet the young actor face to face.

It's been a long time coming, this moment.

(both laugh)

It's looking great. It looks fantastic.

We knew we had to find somebody special.

In looking at your screen test, it was really clear.

You embodied the spirit of what we knew we needed for Kunta.

To be such a central part of this story was a weight at first.

Everyday, I'm realizing why this story needs to be told and why it's important.

And so, it doesn't feel like a burden anymore.

It just feels like something that needs to be done.

It's yours now because there needs to be a new Kunta for this new generation.

And action!

Roots is a four-night event and each night is two hours.

(ambient music)

narrator: The producers approached the new Roots as four separate stories, each about a different generation of the Kinte family.

Each episode was helmed by a different director to give it its own look and feel.

So, part of the journey is to make sure that each night feels like its own movie, but at the same time feels like a part of a greater sum.

The story of Kunta Kinte and of Alex Haley's family is not an easy story.

It's a very difficult story.

It's a very dark part of American history.

narrator: When Kunta arrives on the Waller plantation, he is a stranger in a strange land.

Beyond language and customs, Haley's book depicted a wide cultural divide between the African Kunta Kinte who was born free and the African Americans who were born into slavery.

You just had your first lesson in how things work.

You can't buy a slave.

You've got to make a slave.

narrator: This divide is characterized by his relationship with Fiddler, a favored slave played by Forest Whitaker.

If the overseer ask for me, tell him Miss Elizabeth sent me to the Allbright's party. (laughs)

narrator: Fiddler's ability to earn his owner money brings him more comforts and freedoms than the average slave.

When Fiddler is forced to take charge of Kunta, his status within the Waller household is suddenly threatened.

Kunta Kinte, if he runs away, or does something outside the rules, that will be reflected on me, and I will be punished for it as well.

So at first, it becomes a burden that he has to make sure that he teaches this person that doesn't wanna be taught.

Why you think that Overseer got Massa to give you to me, huh?

'Cause Overseer know that you're gonna take off again.

As he starts to go along, he starts to see this sort of internal strength and pride and beauty of Kunta Kinte and becomes more of a father to Kunta Kinte in America.

It is time for you to go.

At least one of us gonna be free.

narrator: Building a friendship with Fiddler is Kunta's first step toward adapting to his tragic circumstances.

And despite all the horrors of life on the Virginia plantation, he meets another who gives him the will to survive.

I'm so relieved you're going to make it Toby.

My name is Belle.

(ambient music)

Her desire to see Kunta live is what fuels everything that she does for him.

That's the connection that she and Fiddler have towards Kunta is really helping him to stay the course.

narrator: For slave owners, marriage was a way to keep slaves rooted to the plantation, discouraging escapes.

For the enslaved, it was a chance to grab a sliver of humanity for themselves.

At least we're together, the three of us.

Our family.

(ambient music)

narrator: It's the birth of Kunta's and Belle's daughter, Kizzy, the next generation, that gives Kunta Kinte a chance to pass on his birthright and My dad told me to make sure that when I have children that I teach them the ways of the Mandinka.

And Kunta taught it to his child for her to know how to teach it to her children.

Kizzy is extraordinarily strong, not only within herself and within her spirit, culturally she's a strong person.

She is taught to be such by her father, who knows exactly who he is and exactly where he came from.

Ultimately, Belle has to protect her daughter from learning.

That could be her downfall.

Kunta wanted to protect her in a different kind of way, teach her how to be a warrior.

And so, they're both trying their best to help their daughter to live.

They can put the chains on your body.

Never let them put the chains on your mind.

narrator: But no amount of warrior training can protect Kizzy from the whims of her owner.

Slave families were often broken apart as punishment.

And no matter the history with their owners, no one was safe.

You brought this upon yourself and upon your poor family.

You brought it on my family. l Take her away.

Please don't take my baby!

It's the tearing apart of the family.

Kizzy!

(Belle cries)

(dramatic orchestral music)

narrator: Coming up, the descendants of Kunta Kinte struggle with tragedy and separation.

Matilda, it's me, George!

narrator: And an exclusi look behind the scenes of this epic production.

And just keeping it like, "Wow," jaw-dropping.

(screams)

Well, I'll be damned.e da.

(baby crying)

Welcome home, George.

narrator: When Kizzy has a child of her own, George, she faces the same fears her parents had, that her child would be sold off.

But as she witnesses her son's growing value to plantation owner Tom Lea, she realizes that she risks losing him in another way.

Marcel: Why's that man always showing off your boy?

For better or worse, they got a bond.

What we got is a bond.

What they got, something completely different.

narrator: Strong performances were needed to bring out the complexities in Chicken George and Tom Lea's relationship.

Newcomer Rege-Jean Page was cast as Chicken George, the iconic role Ben Vereen originated.

And I keep drowning all the truth because I just want so bad to be away from here.

It ain't never gonna be that.

We all gonna be like Mingo!

And I've been waiting for the right moment to give him everything he gave us.

George is a charming young man, who is born between worlds.

Tom Lea is a small stock landowner from Caswell County, North Carolina.

He's a gambler, first and foremost.

Not interested in working land.

Interested in cockfighting.

I ain't gonna wait 'til I'm older to rise up where I should be!

We need these damn birds to win!

narrator: George's skill with the birds becomes a way for him to provide value to Tom.

But this also complicates the relationship between the two.

Straightaway, George is a child who's looking for a father figure.

And he finds this connection with Tom through what he can do.

And there is always a struggle for acceptance there.

Chain yourself to the wagon, George.

Massa, it's me.

It's George, you trust me.

Do it, George, or I will shoot you!

It's a really interesting dynamic.

I think it was very hard for Kizzy to see her son leaning towards something that he didn't recognize as dangerous.

Overseer: If you came from another plantation, get back there.

narrator: Slaves from smaller plantations often had to find spouses on other plantations, only seeing them a few times a week.

George finds himself in such a predicament when he falls in love with Matilda.

(ambient music)

Matilda is the daughter of Reverend Ben Lyons, who is the local preacher at the Macgregor Farm.

And I meet Chicken George in a moment of him teasing the way that my father preaches.

'Cause a full belly is a righteous belly!

(clucks)

Chicken, chicken, everybody need chicken.

I told you what I'd do.

You keep it up every Sunday, so rude and disrespectful to my daddy.

Oh Lord, help me now, I got a she-wolf on me.

(ambient music)

narrator: In the years to come, George and Matilda's son, Tom, will grow up in what will be the dying days of slavery.

Tom represents in many ways the character that was straddling the old slave system and the new era, emancipation.

It's a very interesting dynamic to deal with.

I won't never see you be my equal.

Don't have no interest in being your equal.

narrator: After the Civil War, Tom faces the same challenges as thousands of other freed slaves: how to build a new life in a new world.

Y'all don't know who you got there!

Best damn blacksmith in the whole damn Union!

If that boy can shoe horses, we can use him.

Let ¢em all in!

narrator: Roots is a story of many generations, but it is Alex Haley that ensures that the story of Kunta Kinte, his name as his shield, is remembered and honored to this day.

The great thing for me about playing Alex Haley is that this really is a family story and we are calling on the ancestor spirits.

Where did Mom and Pop come from, and where did Grandma and Grandpa come from?

Those things help shape our own identities.

This, for me, is the theme I connect to most with Roots.

I'm just so pleased to be a part of it.

narrator: The new Roots goes to great lengths to honor the rich legacy of music and culture brought to America by African slaves.

This legacy preserved their identity and supported their survival.

And ultimately, it helped shape a burgeoning nation.

(ambient music)

narrator: Academy Award-nominated costume designer Ruth Carter oversaw a wardrobe spanning multiple generations.

Together with Diana Cilliers, who worked on the African segments, her team would unearth a world rich in color and history.

Ruth Carter, who's our costume designer, and is insanely talented and detail-oriented has built some extraordinary dresses.

As a costume designer, it's just much more meaty to get into a period film.

And this one travels for a hundred years.

Authenticity is so important, and I tried to research it as well as I possibly could.

I feel that we're portraying something that's richer, and that's more colorful Most of the slave films that we have seen in the past were all beige.

So, then I went back and started looking at the research, and I started noticing in those old etchings and the paintings that blue was very consistent.

And so we talked about the indigo that also goes back to the Mandinka culture and tribe in Africa, and that their cloth was this indigo blue.

So, all of a sudden, kind of organically, we all started thinking about the history with blue, the indigo blue as our through-line.

And it began to pop up for me everywhere.

And so, those connections for me are exciting.

narrator: Bringing the characters of Roots to life also required extensive research beyond costuming.

Hair and makeup teams discovered that the beauty standards of the Mandinka people were markedly different than those of the West.

It's a whole world we are building here.

So, the Mandinka was very known for the fact that they used a coal-like substance.

It's a gray crystal that is crushed into finest powder.

So, the black lips was the beautiful, the black eyes were beautiful, the dark eyebrows.

Black was the beautiful.

narrator: Unlike the original Roots, where actors LeVar Burton and John Amos played the role or Kunta Kinte at different ages, Malachi Kirby plays the part throughout Kunta's entire life.

The makeup effects team utilized modern techniques to age Malachi over 20 years.

There's new technology.

There's different ways of applying makeup.

There's amazing products that look real.

We have a makeup effects crew and they did a lifecast and molds and did a lot of appliances and aging.

It was crazy.

I thought I was gonna die for a second 'cause I fell asleep.

Then I woke up and it was like (makes suction sound)

Ahh! (laughs)

But it's cool.

There's some effects in here besides just aging.

Some graphic violence, some blood.

(gun fires)

(screams)

And just keeping it really like, "Wow," jaw-dropping.

And for those of us that are old enough to have actually seen the first Roots, it's going to be a color explosion compared to what we watched before.

narrator: Coming up--

This is a huge undertaking.

narrator: Meet the talents bringing the harsh world of Roots to life.

This Roots is cinematic, and it's big, and it's bad.

narrator: And see behind the scenes--

We wanna make it as believable as possible.

narrator: on one of the most extraordinary set pieces in the entire series.

Kunta down!

And up!

And go!

Pretty good, let's play it back.

(ambient music)

narrator: Of all the atrocities committed during the slave trade, perhaps nothing was more brutal than the Middle Passage, the journey of the enslaved overseas from Africa to America.

While an intense amount of research was done going into the project, bringing this world to life would ultimately be in the hands of a dedicated crew behind the scenes.

At no time in this process will we shy away from the power, the strength, and the difficulty of those scenes, because that history is truth.

And we need to see it and we need to show it to the audience.

We spent quite a bit of time researching.

You're trying to get a balance of what is historically accurate, what is visually interesting.

The attention to detail, making sure that everything is done right.

That's what's going to make this an authentic and organic viewing experience.

narrator: Since the type of ships used during the slave trade are no longer in existence, the Roots team set out to build one from scratch.

Everything on the ship is hand-built.

So, it's not like they go out and they buy the cleats for the ship.

They had to hand-build them.

The pulley systems you have to do authentic, hand-built with wheels that really work.

Everything is hand-built.

Unbelievable.

Every single piece of this ship that we have built from scratch was built exactly as the documents indicate to us they were built back then.

There is no more authentic boat anywhere in the world than this one that we have created for this Roots.

(waves crashing)

And once you're inside the ship, they put in 150 real people into the the hold, which was the real parameters of what it would have been.

Slave ship was not particularly built They were cargo ships; the cargo was slaves.

So, there was rudimentary benching and shelving put in to carry the slaves.

Any ship at that time had very low decks.

So, what we've done on this ship is put a sort of five-foot limit to the height of the deck, which is horrific.

It's going to be horrific.

It's going to be bad for the people filming.

It's going to be bad for the extras.

There isn't much air in there.

So, you really actually do eventually find it hard to breathe.

I noticed I kept falling asleep, and then I realized it was because of the lack of oxygen.

The Middle Passage was undoubtedly a very, very difficult and deadly experience.

One of the problems would have been the heat, the heat of so many bodies in the hold of the ship, packed in pretty closely to each other, and the general difficulties in ventilating that area.

And it would have caused a lot of people to perspire heavily and lose a lot of fluids.

In addition to that, we can expect that many people would have been seasick.

The conditions were so unsanitary that dysentery and smallpox and influenza and all of these infectious diseases were running rampant.

They didn't have good ways of disposing of the human waste.

You're talking about hundreds of people.

Imagining that you're at 120 degrees, it smells terrible.

There are actually people dying around you, which has to be a traumatic experience for everybody onboard.

I think for the first time ever, it's really gonna show slavery at its worst.

Phillip: And action!

Slave Trader: Up!

Clear the path.

Slave Trader: I want food in every black belly.

Eat!

Don't fight me!

Get him still.

Hold still!

There were those everyday forms of resistance, which included refusing to eat, going on a starvation diet.

The captain and his crew would force-feed them.

They had implements, and one of them was used to pry open the jaws of Africans to force-feed them so that they wouldn't die.

You'll eat or suck metal, but food will get in your belly.

When we were on the ship, I wanted to get as close to it as I could safely, to that reality, and the reality was they would have been on that ship in that hold for maybe three months.

And so, I only had a day, but I wanted to have that day.

So, I just stayed in there when they weren't shooting.

And when they was, I just kind of went into a little corner.

I was angry and I was upset and also feeling for all of those people who went through it.

You had a number of revolts.

Enslaved people actually tried to get control of the ship.

The barricado on the ship was basically a barricade that kept the slaves one side of the ship, and the crew the other side.

They were generally about 10 foot high.

Obviously, didn't want people crawling over them.

But they were basically to separate the crew from the slaves.

So, if there was an uprising, the ship was still in control of the crew.

(yelling and shouting)

The question of why the enslaved didn't actually overthrow the slave traders, those slave ships were armed.

I mean, they had guns.

They had weapons to ensure that, in the event that the slaves did resist, that they could prevent the slaves from getting control of the ship.

narrator: Coming up, the journey of a song.

Executive Music Producer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson talks about the rich musical culture of Roots.

This mely's supposed to last the test of time.

I met Will Packer at an event, and he says, "Look, I wanna let you know I'm doin' this project on Roots."

And instantly, I thought, "Wait, how come you're doing a project on us and we don't know about it?" (laughs)

And then he was, like, "No, slow down." (laughs)

(ambient music)

With any project I take on, I do thorough searching and research before I instantly jump in.

But, I felt as though the retelling of the story was way too important to not be a part of it.

So, one of the things that I kinda cringe at when I see movie scores is I hear a lot of references that aren't necessarily from that time period, so I had to make sure that the music was correct.

Lucy Duran, who's a musicologist, was there to guide us and let us know certain things.

Throughout the Mande world, music has always played a very, very significant role.

And it's professional music done by specialist musicians, who are known as griots.

narrator: West African griots are an integral part of Roots' authenticity.

In fact, it was from a griot that Alex Haley heard Kunta Kinte's full name for the first time.

The production cast two well-known Mandinka griots to help bring scenes in Kunta's African home to life.

(African music)

So much of what we know about Mande history and the history of West Africa has been passed down via the oral tradition, from father to son and mother to daughter, through the griot lineages.

narrator: For Kunta and other Africans that were enslaved at the time, using music as a means to communicate became a tool for survival.

(speaks foreign language)

(speaks foreign language)

(African singing)

You're in a disarmed place when you hear singing and music.

So, that was the wisest way to communicate without arousing suspicion.

narrator: In America, music continues to be central to the lives of the enslaved.

(African singing)

For Kunta, it was a way to share his African past with future generations.

We decided that we were gonna start with a song, a lullaby, that Kunta's mom sings to him, and trace it in its travel on the slave ships.

Dr. Lucy was kind enough to send me some references to what lullabies sounded like at the time period.

So, after this three week soul searching, just sat there with my eight notes trying to figure out (laughs) different combinations of what would work, what could easily be hummed and be timeless.

So, the first time that you hear Binta's Theme is with Kunta's mother singing it to him as a way to soothe him.

It's a lullaby.

(singing in foreign language)

To see the song stay with him as a source of comfort, from his mother's lullaby, all the way to him traveling on the ship.

(singing in Mande)

So, even after arriving in America, that melody still stays with him.

That's what keeps him sane.

Binta's lullaby that was sung to Kunta that he brings over because of Kunta Kinte singing it.

And we start to see in my character that there's a slow remembering of the song that maybe my grandmother sang, maybe somebody else on the plantation sang, it reminds him of a past that's his and a history and a pride of who he is from Africa.

That song of yours, it's like I remember it from somewhere.

narrator: The song lives and grows as it passes from one generation to the next.

(woman humming)

That's pretty.

Came up from Durham way?

(laughs) Came from my papa.

narrator: As Roots draws to a close, the simple lullaby has turned into a popular folk song.

(banjo playing)

♪ I fear, I fear, my mother is dead ♪
♪ I fear I'll come to harm ♪

This will morph into what we know as American gospel and American blues.

So, when we look at African American music in particular, I look at the Negro spirituals as representative of music that's coming straight out of slavery.

♪ Do you wanna see Jesus ♪
♪ Certainly Lord ♪

Music really is a prayer when it's sung.

♪ Have you been baptized ♪
♪ Certainly Lord ♪

A lot of our emotions had to be in song, so music cuts to the core of your heart.

The ability to make you cry, the ability to make you reminisce, the ability to anger you.

Very rarely, it leaves you in a state of numbness.

(humming)

(upbeat music)

narrator: Coming up, the cast and crew consider the purpose of Roots, old and new.

You draw strength from those that came before you, whose lives were harder than your life is.

narrator: And a new national conversation begins.

It's important that we all understand how we got to be in this great melting pot of a society that we're in now.

Crew: And mark.

Director: Action!

General Lee's gone home!

This war is over, and we ain't slaves!!

(people shouting and crying)

(ambient music)

narrator: In 2012, History approached Mark Wolper, son of the original producer of Roots, David Wolper, about teaming up to create a new vision.

When I began this journey, part of the decision to remake Roots really depended on who was gonna be my partner in this process.

Where was it gonna broadcast?

How much support would I get?

Both in terms of supporting the history and supporting the resources that would be needed to do this right.

And I truly found that partner in History.

And that's why we are sitting here today doing this, because of that great bond.

History's the right place for a show like Roots.

It's not just his story or her story, it's our story, our story of Americans in an unflinching way, the good, the bad, the ugly, all of it like you've never seen it before.

Mario: And action!

(grunting)

My name is Kunta Kinte!

(gasping)

Mario: Great.

Take a breath, let's do it again.

narrator: Despite the challenges of slavery and oppression, Kunta Kinte maintained his family legacy by instilling in each generation the importance of identity and knowing one's roots.

Mandinka warriors from Africa, they're the strongest toughest boys in this whole world.

You gotta teach my baby, too, Daddy.

Don't you worry.

I got lots to teach you about Kunta Kinte.

narrator: It's a powerful message that speaks to all of humanity, regardless of color or race.

I know you my first baby not born a slave.

Haley has given us a saga of an American family, not as an African American family, it's an American family.

You draw strength from those that came before you, whose lives were harder than your life is, people who thought enough about you before you were born to try to make the road that you traveled that much easier than theirs was.

I find that with a lot of people, if they have a sense of history and knowing that they came somewhere, then their life just has a little bit more meaning.

From the triumphs and the tragedy, it's important that we all understand how we got to be in this great melting pot of a society that we're in now.

The whole idea of telling this story is uncomfortable for both blacks and whites.

It's just, it's an uncomfortable part of our history.

The understanding of slavery is something not just important for and to black Americans, but it's important for white Americans to experience as well.

It's a wonderful story about a group of human beings who triumphed over tremendous problems and adversity.

You don't have to be African American to appreciate it.

narrator: In 1977, Roots started a national conversation, a conversation that History is aiming to reignite in 2016.

It feels like you're involved in something so much larger than you, and something that is important to so many people, and so there's a huge responsibility.

What do you think the message is for the young black male who watches this?

That our history is not, does not begin at slavery.

(applause)

narrator: With new historical finds, this massive, groundbreaking production that journeyed across continents is the revealing story of one resilient American family, made anew for this generation.

Your generation needs a Kunta.

They need a warrior spirit that they can identify with.

Young black children need to know that they come from something extraordinarily strong, and extraordinarily beautiful.

They didn't come from chains.

To know yourself truly, to know where it is that you come from, is a sense of freedom.

This generation can have something to hold onto and say, "Look where we have come from.

"Look where I am now."

Let young people lead this discussion.

What do they want America to look like 100 years from now as a result of knowing where America came from?

I really hope that it will encourage people to ask questions of themselves, of other people, of the world that we're building for ourselves.

If you're ready for that and you're ready to be entertained, you're ready to laugh and to maybe cry and at times go, "Oh wow," this is the show to watch.

If we can find a new audience, and if that audience walks away from watching this project changed, emotionally invested, smarter, and more understanding of our American experience, then we've succeeded.

(slow rock music)

(laughs)

(laughs)

Too much sunshine, makes 'em loopy.

Loopy, my ass. (laughs)

(laughs)

Behold, the only thing... greater than yourself.