History’s Reimagined Epic Mini-Series: ROOTS

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The miniseries ROOTS first aired in 1977, immediately shaking the world into starting a real social conversation about race, and the major struggle with it as a nation. An unprecedented number of Americans not only watched the breakthrough series but were forced to talk about what they saw, what they felt, and what it meant to each of them. The series struck a chord with viewers throughout the world who also felt connected to the universal story about the power of human resilience and identity. Nearly 40 years later, it is clear that the conversation ROOTS started should continue among your families, friends, colleagues, classmates or among neighbors, faith or community groups….everyone.

Based on the 1976 novel by Alex Haley, Roots: The Saga of An American Family – is an emotionally powerful, eye-opening exploration of the transatlantic slave trade and the deadly struggles of living in slavery during the 1700’s in North America.

ROOTS, was produced as a historical portrait recounting the journey of one family and their undying will to survive and ultimately carry on their legacy despite so many challenging hardships and loss of life.

The series begins in 1750 in the port city of Juffure, in the river region of The Gambia in West Africa. Omoro Kinte and his wife, Binta, have their first child, a son named Kunta. As a member of the highly esteemed Kinte family, Kunta is trained in Mandinka customs and traditions. He is a dedicated student who dreams of traveling to the university in Timbuktu to become a scholar. Kunta passes his warrior training, an important Mandinka rite of passage, but soon after he is betrayed by the Koros, a rival family. After being kidnapped and captured, Kunta is sold to British slave traders in 1767 and is shipped through the brutal Middle Passage to America on the Lord Ligonier along with 140 other slaves.

Conditions are horrific on the slave ship and Kunta fears he will never see his family again. He unites his fellow slaves and unsuccessfully leads an uprising on board. In Annapolis, Maryland, he is sold to a Virginia planter named John Waller and is given the slave name Toby. Kunta strongly resists his new name and enslavement. He relies on the wise counsel of Fiddler, an assimilated slave and sophisticated musician who has been assigned to train him. With Fiddler’s help, Kunta fights to survive and maintain his dignity despite the unrelenting violence of the slave system.

The new ROOTS from A+E Studios has benefited from updated new studies about life in The Gambia, the slave trade and the lives of enslaved people on American plantations during the 18th and 19th centuries. The 2016 ROOTS miniseries breathes vibrant life into the characters Kunta Kinte, Kizzy, Chicken George and the rest of their family’s breathtaking journeys.

As we approach the historic 40th anniversary of the original series, a special four-night, eight-hour event developed by HISTORY Channel, from fellow A+E Studios, will air on both channels for 4 nights beginning Monday, May 30th, 2016.

With an amazing cast and crew ready to reimagine ROOTS for a new generation, the new ROOTS hopes that today’s version will have the same lasting legacy of the original series did in 1977.

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A History About ROOTS: 
Over 130 million viewers watched ROOTS over the course of 8 consecutive nights, nearly half of the U.S. population at the time. It was a seminal moment in American history. It was the first time that a television series started a conversation about slavery, race, identity, family, and freedom.

When ROOTS aired in 1977, it took the world by storm, telling the story of Kunta Kinte, an African who is abducted from The Gambia, sold into slavery, and taken to America. Based on the 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of An American Family by Alex Haley, the miniseries powerfully depicted the story of Kunta Kinte and his family’s struggle for freedom over several generations.

The Mandinka (also known as the Mandingo and Malinke, among other names) are a West African people spread across parts of Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal, the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. With a global population of some 11 million, the Mandinka are the best-known ethnic group of the Mande peoples, all of whom speak different dialects of the Mande language. They are descendants of the great Mali Empire that flourished in West Africa from the 13th through the 16th centuries. Beginning in the 16th century, tens of thousands of Mandinka were captured and shipped to the Americas as slaves. Of the approximately 388,000 Africans who landed in America as a result of the slave trade, historians believe 92,000 (24 percent) were Senegambians, from the region of West Africa comprising the Senegal and Gambia Rivers and the land between them; many were Mandinka and Bambara (another Mande ethnic group). In the 20th century, the author Alex Haley made the Mandinka famous when he traced his “Roots” back to the village of Juffure in the Gambia, where his great-great-great-great-grandfather, Kunta Kinte, was captured and sold into slavery in the United States.

Most Mandinka men are poor subsistence farmers, for whom one rainy season spells hunger and ruin. Peanuts are a main crop, and a staple of the Mandinka diet; they also plant millet, corn and sorghum. Mandinka women do the laborious, physically demanding work of tending the rice fields, in addition to their roles as wives and mothers.

Traditional customs include circumcision for both boys and girls, arranged marriages and polygamy (Mandinka men are allowed up to four wives). The Mandinka have a strong oral tradition, in which “griots,” or storytellers, keep alive stories of village and family history, often accompanied by music on the kora, a traditional instrument resembling a harp. Literacy is low among many Mandinka populations, at least for Roman script; more than half can read local Arabic script, taught in small Koranic schools that are more common in Mandinka villages.

History of ROOTS provided by HISTORY.com

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