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Rediscovering Roots

Forest Whitaker, Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Rhys Meyers star in this retelling of the award-winning TV miniseries “Roots”

By Pamela Chow; Photos: Courtesy of History Channel

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Follow the tumultuous life of Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby), who’s captured from his home in South Africa and shipped by English slave traders to America.

It’s the year 1767 in the city of Juffre, South Africa. Kunta Kinte (portrayed by Malachi Kirby of Gone Too Far and “EastEnders”) is a highly-trained warrior in Mandinka customs and traditions, and educated in mathematics, literature and geography — a promising member of the king’s cavalry.

Unfortunately, Kunta is betrayed by a rival family and delivered to English slave traders. Shipped to America with 140 other slaves, he must survive the pestilence, filth, abuse and depravity that awaits.

Adapted from the award-winning 1977 television miniseries, the new “Roots”, premiering on May 31, is a four-part historical portrait of American slavery, which recounts the journey of one family and its will to survive.

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Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays villain Tom Lea, a cruel and brutal slave trader of Irish descent.

Award-winning production

Based on the best-selling novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family” by Alex Haley, the original TV miniseries has had the second highest-rated finale in TV history since 1977. This modern retelling looks set to be gripping with award-winning actors such as Forest Whitaker and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

Whitaker, star of The Last King of Scotland, The Butler and the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, appears as Fiddler, who offers wise counsel to Kunta for survival in the American plantations.

Meyers, known for his Golden Globe Award-winning portrayal of Elvis Presley in the miniseries “Elvis” as well as starring as King Henry VIII in “The Tudors”, plays Tom Lea the cruel and brutal slave trader.

Laurence Fishburne of the Matrix fame also stars, as the novel’s author, Haley.

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Forest Whitaker stars as Fiddler, who offers wise counsel to Kunta for survival in the American plantations.

Real history revealed

To ensure authenticity, 10 historians and two Mandinka experts were consulted. They even brought in an official Gambia music consultant, a Kontingo musician and a Kora player and music consultant from South Africa.

More than 21,500 costumes were rented for the series, and some 950-plus costumes were specially crafted to mimic garments worn by 18th-century slaves.

At the show’s debut at Cannes Confab last month, producer Mark Wolper (son of David L Wolper, producer of the original series) tearfully admitted, “I was afraid to walk in the footsteps of my father and redo a show that had such a ground-breaking impact.”

This changed when his 16-year-old son inspired him.

“There is a whole new generation who don’t know the story. It’s such an impor-tant one because these people existed. That’s real history,” he said.

“Roots” will premiere on May 31, 10pm, over four consecutive nights, on History, StarHub TV Ch 401.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of Weekender, Issue 153, May 27 – June 9, 2016, with the headline ‘Rediscovering Roots’.

 

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