The History Channel went and did it. They messed around and rebooted a groundbreaking series. In a departure from their usual programming (which seems to be "All Hitler, All The Time"), they remade the classic TV series "Roots."
If you're my age, which is somewhere between "older than a Millennial" and "younger than a Baby Boomer", then there's only one "Roots" you remember.
As far as Black pop culture was concerned, this was the definitive telling of the horrors of the TransAtlantic Slave trade and African-American history. We felt the pain when Kunta Kinte finally told the slavemaster that his name was "Toby." I remember an older Kunta Kinte saying, after he got his foot chopped off, saying "I'm not gon' learn to walk... I'm gon' learn to RUN", and feeling a bit of pride. And how many of us held up newborn babies to the moonlight?
No, I didn't do this. I was a kid when the original first came out, for goodness' sake.
The Original Recipe Roots gave us an almost complete timeline from slavery and captivity to freedom, to every aspect of American History, to Alex Haley going back to the Motherland to meet his family. It was about as good a Black History class as what was being taught in the schools.
Fast forward to 2016.
We are in an age of reboots. Batman has been rebooted to rescue us from the dark ages of the Schumacher era...
...to Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne meets the Marlboro Man, to Ben Affleck picking up the cowl. Spider-Man has been rebooted so many times that Aunt Mae is getting younger and younger at each reboot. Ghostbusters is being rebooted with women. Superman has...
...there have been a lot of reboots, is all I'm saying.
Of course, the natural instinct is to boo and hiss at any idea of a remake of Roots, for several reasons.
1) Original Recipe Roots was a classic, and should not be touched. Clearly, Hollywood is out of ideas if they have to desecrate the sacred grounds of this classic.
2) Aren't we TIRED of "slave narrative" movies? Geez! Every movie has to be about slaves and Black degradation and humiliation. "12 Years A Slave"? It was good, but come on... "Django Unchained"? Really? Who greenlit THAT? Blah blah blah, rat-a-tat-tat, hibbity jibbity.
Funny thing about point #2. This comprehensive piece completely dispels the myth that the majority of American movies with Black actors are slave narratives. It also points out something that is more horrifying. If you look at the timeline of movies from 2006 until now, you will see that Tyler Perry has released more movies than movies with so-called "slave narratives."
THAT should horrify you. (snark)
Of course, the new Roots miniseries is making the rounds in social media. A person asked this:
// What are these slaves movies going to do besides piss us off again //
That's when I responded with this, as to what "slave movies are going to do":
How about countering the efforts of conservatives to rewrite history? A Texas history book tried to reduce the TransAtlantic Slave Trade to "migrant worker patterns" for people "looking for better opportunities."
If it takes a million reboots of "Roots" to report history accurately, I am here for it. I don't have to watch them, but at least more people will know that the horrors of slavery weren't part of a "job creation program."
You see, slavery has always been under attack by conservatives. They have been telling Black people to "get over slavery", since it ended hundreds of years ago. That point fails to mention the aftermath of slavery, from the Reconstruction to Jim Crow laws to the Civil Rights movement to modern attacks on the Voting Rights Act. And if they aren't trying to minimize the horrors of slavery (something that's never said to any other group that has been subjugated and marginalized), they're trying to rewrite history.
A geography book publisher tried to rewrite enslaved Africans as "immigrants" or "workers." And a map even had THIS picture:
Y'all see that, right?
Pet Negro Apologists like Jesse Lee Peterson try to give everyone the Black Conservative Perspective, by uttering such weapons-grade nonsense like "We should be thanking God for slavery!"
And that's when it hit me. Just as a meme that I saw stating that the Ghostbusters redo wasn't for the fans of the original, but it was for little girls who dream of owning their own proton packs and sending demonic spirits back to the gates of Hell, the Roots remake may just not be for me.
It may not BE for those of us who are fully aware of the horrors of slavery. It may not BE for those of us who saw the original series in our formative years, and gave us a sense of a knowledge of who we are and where we come from. We, the Black Generation X-ers who grew up on "Good Times", "The Jeffersons", Sugar Hill Gang, early Public Enemy, and "All In The Family", may not BE the target audience for this venture.
THIS venture may be for those who have no idea just how horrible and dehumanizing slavery was. It may be for those whose only exposure to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the "I Have A Dream" speech that's played every February. It may be for those who are being taught that the TransAtlantic Slave Trade was nothing more than "migrant worker patterns."
And you know what?
I'm here for it. I may not watch the new series (more about my own personal preferences than taking a stand one way or another). And I don't have to watch it. None of us do. But if it takes another "slave narrative" to combat any attempts to whitewash slavery, I'm here for it. I'm here for it all day. Because if we're not careful, the tales of horror and abuse and ungodly dehumanizing get reduced to happy-clappy stuff like slaves who are happy to cook for George Washington, and Sally Hemings/Thomas Jefferson is a torrid tale of a forbidden love affair.
In the meantime, I'll be over there waiting for the reign of T'Challa to begin.