Roots (2016 miniseries)


Promotional poster
Based on Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley
Written by Lawrence Konner
Mark Rosenthal
Alison McDonald
Charles Murray
Directed by Bruce Beresford
Thomas Carter
Phillip Noyce
Mario Van Peebles
Starring Malachi Kirby
Forest Whitaker
Anna Paquin
Laurence Fishburne
Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Anika Noni Rose
Chad L. Coleman
Emayatzy Corinealdi
Matthew Goode
Derek Luke
Mekhi Phifer
James Purefoy
Erica Tazel
Regé-Jean Page
Lane Garrison
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 4
Producer(s) Ann Kindberg
George Parra
Will Packer (executive)
Marc Toberoff (executive)
Mark Wolper (executive)
LeVar Burton (co-executive)
Korin Huggins (co-executive)
Alissa M. Kantrow (line)
Dirk Hoogstra (production executive)
Michael Stiller (development executive)
Cinematography Peter Menzies, Jr.
Editor(s) James Wilcox
Running time 383 minutes
8 hours (including commercials)
Distributor The Wolper Organization
Will Packer Productions
Original network History Channel
Picture format 480p, 1080i (HDTV)
Original release May 30 – June 2, 2016
Preceded by Roots
Roots: The Next Generations
Roots: The Gift
External links

Roots is a 2016 American miniseries and a remake of the 1977 miniseries with the same name, based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel, Roots: The Saga of an American Family. It first aired on May 30, 2016 and stars Malachi Kirby, Forest Whitaker, Anna Paquin, Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anika Noni Rose, T.I. and South African actress Nokuthula Ledwaba. It was produced on a budget of $50 million.[1]


Part 1

In the 1770s, Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby) is a Mandinka warrior from Juffure in The Gambia, in West Africa. Kunta's family is loyal to the Mandinka king and are resistant to the Europeans. This, however, means the Kinte family faces the danger of reprisal from the rival Koro family, who trade African slaves for English guns.

Kunta is captured by the Koros, who sell him and other members of the Kinte family to white slave traders for two crates of guns. Despite an attempted mutiny by the slaves, he is transported across the Atlantic Ocean to the Colony of Virginia, where he is sold to John Waller (James Purefoy), who owns a tobacco plantation. Kunta is renamed Toby, and put under the care of a musician slave called Fiddler (Henry) (Forest Whitaker).

With the aid of Fiddler, Kunta makes an escape attempt on Christmas, but is caught and flogged by the cruel overseer Connelly (Tony Curran) until he says his name is Toby, not Kunta Kinte. Kunta realizes that he will not be returning to his home in the Gambia. Fiddler tends to Kunta's bloodied back and tells him to keep his true name inside, no matter what the white men call him.

Part 2

Ten years later in 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, Kunta escapes to fight for the British army. Without proper weapons, his regiment is slaughtered. Kunta is eventually re-captured and, as punishment, all the toes on his right foot are chopped off.

He and Henry are sent to the farm of Dr. William Waller (Matthew Goode), in payment for his brother John Waller's debts. One year later the Revolution ends and the United States celebrates its independence. Kunta marries Belle (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a beautiful slave woman who nursed him back to health, and they have a daughter. Fiddler and Kunta take the baby into the woods for a Mandinka naming ceremony. They are suddenly surrounded by a slave patrol, which Henry distracts so Kunta and the baby can slip away. This results in Henry's murder. Kunta names the baby Kizzy, which means "stay put" in hopes of keeping their family together.

Kizzy (played by Saniyya Sidney as a child and by Emyri Crutchfield as a teen) grows up to be a bright young woman and Missy (G. Hannelius), Dr. Waller's niece, secretly teaches her how to read. Kunta trains Kizzy in the ways of a Mandinka warrior, passing on her cultural heritage. She also falls in love with another slave named Noah (Mandela Van Peebles).

When a hurricane hits the farm, Kizzy and Noah attempt to escape. The next day, Kunta finds Kizzy hiding inside a brick oven. A search party tracks Noah to a barn. When he runs the men shoot and kill him. They discover a written road pass that Kizzy forged and Dr. Waller learns of Kizzy's literacy.

As a result, Kizzy is sold to Tom Lea (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in North Carolina. He rapes her the same night she arrives. Nine months later she gives birth to Lea's son, whom he names George. Kizzy contemplates killing her infant, but decides to raise him so she can pass on the story of his heritage.

Part 3

Tom Lea takes young George (Jaylin Ogle) along with him to be trained in how to raise fighting chickens. While George is eager to see the world, Kizzy (by now played by Anika Noni Rose) is worried about him spending so much time away from her. Over the years, George (Regé-Jean Page) becomes a skilled breeder and fighter of chickens, earning his master lots of money and becoming known as "Chicken George".

After being insulted at a party, Lea fights a bloody duel with another slave holder. George serves as his second, and Tom agrees to allow him to marry Matilda (Erica Tazel), the daughter of a slave preacher who he has been courting. His position as a trusted slave is challenged during Nat Turner's slave rebellion. Lea, like many other whites, begins to suspect that all slaves might be planning to rise up.

George and Matilda marry and have several children, the eldest of whom is named Tom after his master. George attends another cockfight, where Tom Lea makes a large wager with a visiting British gentleman. Lea promises that if George wins the fight he will give him his freedom papers. George wins and celebrates his newfound freedom. However, they fight one more round against the Englishman and lose. Lea does not have the money to pay off his debt and instead agrees to give George to the man to be taken back to England to raise fighting cocks. George protests, but is dragged away.

Part 4

On the eve of the Civil War, George returns from England after his British master gave him his freedom for many years service. He tracks down Matilda and his family, now owned by a new master, Benjamin Murray (Wayne Pére). Murray allows George to stay with his wife on the plantation, much to the consternation of his secessionist son Frederick Murray (Lane Garrison), who is engaged to marry Nancy Holt (Anna Paquin). George later leaves after discovering that his freedom will be revoked if his remains in the state for more than 90 days.

George's son Tom is now a skilled blacksmith and valued member of the Murray plantation. Tom (Sedale Threatt Jr.) blames his father for abandoning them and initially wants nothing to do with him. When war breaks out, Nancy reveals to Tom that she is a Union spy and tries to enlist him to help her. He initially refuses, but when Frederick and his friends rape his lover, Tom decides to help. Their plans go awry and Nancy and her slave Jerusalem (Mekhi Phifer) are exposed as spies and executed.

Meanwhile, George and another black man named Cyrus (T.I.) join the Union Army. They participate in the Battle of Fort Pillow, and watch horrified when surrendering black troops are massacred. George, Cyrus, and Tom flee pursuing Confederate bushwhackers and return to the Murray plantation to learn that all the slaves have been freed by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. When Frederick threatens them, George shoots him dead. George, Cyrus, Tom, Matilda and the rest of their family pack up their belongings and head to Tennessee to start a new life. Once there, Tom and his wife have a daughter, the first Kinte born free in America. Many years later, a man named Alex Haley traces his roots to Kunta Kinte and writes a book to honor both his family and all those descended from African slaves.



The History channel commissioned a remake of the miniseries after acquiring rights from David L. Wolper's son, Mark Wolper, and Alex Haley's estate. The new eight-hour miniseries, with Mark Wolper as executive producer, drew on Haley's novel and the original miniseries albeit from a contemporary perspective.[2] In April 2015, it was announced that along with The History Channel, Lifetime and A&E would also broadcast the remake of the Roots miniseries. Will Packer, Marc Toberoff and Mark Wolper will executive produce it alongside Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal. LeVar Burton, star of the original series, and Korin Huggins will co-executive produce it.[3]

On February 11, 2016, a trailer for the remake of Roots was released[4] and Paul Buccieri, president of A&E and The History Channels, announced that the four night, 8-hour event series would premiere on Memorial Day, May 30, 2016. The ensemble cast includes Forest Whitaker as Fiddler, Anna Paquin as Nancy Holt, Lane Garrison as Frederick Murray, Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Tom Lea, Anika Noni Rose as Kizzy, Tip Harris as Cyrus, Emayatzy Corinealdi as Belle, Matthew Goode as Dr. William Waller, Mekhi Phifer as Jerusalem, James Purefoy as John Waller, introduces Regé-Jean Page as Chicken George and Malachi Kirby as Kunta Kinte, South African actress Nokuthula Ledwaba as Binta Kinte – Kunta's mom and Laurence Fishburne as Alex Haley.[5]

Differences from the 1977 series

The 2016 miniseries undertook several changes from the original series. The more notable changes include:

Broadcast and distribution

In the United States, Roots aired in four installments of approximately two hours each, from May 30 to June 2, 2016, on History, A&E, and Lifetime.

In Canada, in addition to availability on A&E, whose U.S. feed is carried in Canada directly – but not the licensed Canadian versions of History or Lifetime – the series will stream on CraveTV beginning in fall 2016.[6][7]

New Zealand state broadcaster TVNZ aired the first episode on TV One on Sunday, July 3 at 8.30pm (New Zealand Standard Time), and will screen the remaining 3 episodes on the following 3 Sundays (July 10th, 17th, and 24th).[8] In Australia, SBS aired the episodes on July 27 and 28, August 3 and 4, 2016.[9]



Roots received critical acclaim, with praise directed towards the acting abilities of the cast, the faithfulness to the original, and the modern changes. On Rotten Tomatoes, the series has a rating of 97%, based on 36 reviews, with an average rating of 8.6/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "A powerfully impressive – and still relevant – update on a television classic, Roots boasts remarkable performances, deep emotion, and occasionally jarring beauty."[10] On Metacritic the series has a score of 83 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[11]


Year Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Movie or Miniseries Pending [12]
Supporting Actor – Movie or Miniseries Lane Garrison
Forest Whitaker
Supporting Actress – Movie or Miniseries Anna Paquin

See also


  1. Andreeva, Nellie (26 May 2016). "A+E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc On Scripted Strategy, Viceland's Start And Planting Roots For The Future". Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  2. Andreeva, Nellie (November 5, 2013). "History To Remake Iconic 'Roots' Miniseries". Retrieved November 6, 2013.
  3. Andreeva, Nellie (2015-04-30). "'Roots' Remake Set For History, A&E, Lifetime; Will Packer, LeVar Burton Produce". Retrieved 2015-05-17.
  4. ][ (February 11, 2016). "Roots: Official Trailer | Premieres Memorial Day 2016 | History". YouTube. Archived from the original on February 12, 2016. Retrieved 2016-02-12.
  5. Morales, Wilson (February 11, 2016). "HISTORY's "Roots" Set to Premiere Memorial Day 2016 |". Retrieved 2016-02-12.
  6. "CraveTV Acquires Exclusive Canadian Streaming Rights to Buzzworthy Event Series ROOTS". Bell Media (Press release). 2016-05-24. Retrieved 2016-05-30.
  7. Harris, Bill (2016-05-25). "Canadians need to keep an eye out for new version of 'Roots'". Toronto Sun. Retrieved 2016-05-30.
  8. Braxton, Greg (27 June 2016). "Roots' producers reveal why they believe the time was right to reimagine the slavery epic". Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  9. Roots, SBS TV; "SBS secures historical hit drama series Roots", press release, SBS TV, 10 May 2016
  10. "Roots (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 30, 2016.
  11. "Roots (2016)". Metacritic. Retrieved May 30, 2016.
  12. Lincoln, Ross (November 14, 2016). "Critics' Choice TV Nominations Unveiled". Retrieved November 15, 2016.
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