The Highly Anticipated Miniseries Remake of “Roots” Premieres on History

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26 May 2016
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Roots
Photo by Steve Dietz/HISTORY Copyright 2016
“Roots”
Premieres Monday, May 30, Tuesday, May 31, Wednesday, June 1 and Thursday, June 2, at 9:00PM-11:00PM (ET/PT) on History 

          ROOTS is a historical portrait of American slavery recounting the journey of one family’s will to survive, endure and ultimately carry on their legacy despite enormous hardship and inhumanity.  Spanning multiple generations, the lineage begins with young Kunta Kinte, who is captured in his homeland in The Gambia and transported in brutal conditions to colonial America, where he’s sold into slavery. Throughout the series, the family continues to face adversity while bearing witness and contributing to notable events in U.S. history – including the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, slave uprisings and eventual emancipation. The story of Kunta Kinte and the women and men who came after him echoes through the history of millions of Americans of African descent, and reveals powerful truths about the universal resilience of the human spirit.
 

          The stellar cast includes Academy Award® winners Forest Whitaker (“Fiddler”) and Anna Paquin (“Nancy Holt”); Academy Award® nominee and Emmy Award® winner Laurence Fishburne (“Alex Haley”); Golden Globe Award® winning and Emmy Award® nominated actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“Tom Lea”); Tony Award® winner Anika Noni Rose (“Kizzy”); Grammy Award® winner Tip “T.I.” Harris (“Cyrus”); Emayatzy Corinealdi (“Belle”); Matthew Goode (“Dr. William Waller”); Mekhi Phifer (“Jerusalem”); James Purefoy (“John Waller”) and introduces Regé-Jean Page (“Chicken George”) and Malachi Kirby (“Kunta Kinte”).
 
NIGHT 1 - Airing on Monday, May 30 at 9/8c
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 by the Koros, 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.
 
NIGHT 2- Airing on Tuesday, May 31 at 9/8c
In 1775, Kunta is working on the Waller farm when he meets English Redcoats encouraging slaves to run away and join the English governor’s ‘Ethiopian Regiment’. The slaves are promised freedom if they fight for King George. However, during the battle Kunta realizes the English are little better than the Americans and takes off. He is apprehended by slave catchers and they amputate half his foot to make sure he never runs off again. John Waller’s younger brother William, a doctor, is outraged at the mutilation and buys Kunta. Kunta is healed by the ministrations of William Waller’s slave cook, Belle. After a lengthy, awkward courtship, Kunta marries Belle.  Soon after, a daughter is born to the couple. Kunta gives her the Mandinka name of “Kizzy,” meaning “you stay put.” A clever child, Kizzy is entranced by William Waller’s daughter, Missy, mistaking her attention for true friendship. Missy secretly teaches Kizzy how to read and write.  Her hidden skills allow her to feel free and actively resist.  As a teenager, Kizzy forges papers that help a young slave, Noah, to escape during a terrible hurricane. Her conspiracy is discovered; Kizzy is sold to a poor, white farmer, Tom Lea. Lea rapes Kizzy fathering a son, George. Kizzy vows to instill in her son both her pride in their African heritage and Kunta Kinte’s dream of freedom.
 
NIGHT 3 - Airing on Wednesday, June 1 at 9/8c
As George grows to manhood, he exhibits traits of both his parents. Like Tom Lea, he falls in love with cockfighting and carousing. The old slave bird-handler, Mingo, resents George who eventually usurps his position as pit master. The rakish George becomes such an accomplished trainer of gamecocks that he earns the sobriquet of “Chicken George.” George marries a preacher’s daughter, Matilda, and fathers many children. But George struggles to keep Tom Lea, his father, from his self-destructive ways. From Kizzy, George has inherited the strong traditions of family and a desire to be free. He rationalizes his bond with Tom Lea by convincing himself that one day he can buy freedom for himself and his family. When Tom Lea loses a reckless wager with an Englishman, he sells Chicken George to save his farm. Chicken George is dragged off to England.
 
NIGHT 4 - Airing on Thursday, June 2 at 9/8c
After more than 20 years in England, Chicken George is finally given his freedom by his English owner. George returns to the Lea farm to discover that his family was sold off to North Carolina in his absence. He tracks them down working for Benjamin Murray, a respected engineer at the North Carolina Federal armory.  George is reunited with Matilda but finds his youngest boy, Tom, a master blacksmith, is now the leader of the family. Tom is a quiet, hard-working young man but he nurses a cold rage against his father, blaming him for abandoning the family. George is forced to leave the Murray farm and meets up with a young, hot-headed slave, Cyrus.  Together they join the Memphis Colored Battery.  As the war comes to a close, Chicken George and Cyrus barely escape with their lives. After the war, southern soldiers launch a terror campaign against freed slaves.  Tom goes on a journey to find his father and, inspired by a vision of Kunta Kinte, rescues George. Once home, Tom leads his family off the Murray farm, embarking on a new life.   True to Kunte’s hope, the family finally finds freedom and has kept the family and their traditions intact.   In 1976, Alex Haley, a seventh-generation descendant of Kunta Kinte, authors and publishes the Pulitzer Prize winning Roots: The Saga of an American Family.

 
Roots
Photo by Steve Dietz/HISTORY Copyright 2016
 
CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS
 
Kunta Kinte- (Malachi Kirby)
Featured in Nights 1&2
Kunta Kinte, “the African,” member of the highly respected Kinte clan of the Mandinka people of Gambia.  A warrior who is educated, clever, skilled, strong, resilient and proud, he is young man of immense courage and spiritual fortitude – all traits that empower him when he is captured by slavers.  Kunta never relinquishes his dream of returning to his homeland and never stops challenging the slaves born in America to fight for their freedom.
 
Belle-(Emayatzy Corinealdi)
Featured in Night 2
The American born wife of Kunta Kinte and longtime favorite cook and housekeeper for Dr. William Waller.  She gives Kunta Kinte a reason to live and stop running. She is the mother to Kunta’s only child – a daughter named Kizzy, but lives with her own terrible secret, her two baby sons who were sold away from her when she was young before she was married to Kunta Kinte.
 
Mingo- (Chad L. Coleman)
Featured in Night 3
A stern no-nonsense slave/cock trainer for Tom Lea, who keeps the Lea plantation afloat. He befriends Chicken George and they bond like father and son.
 
Alex Haley-( Laurence Fishburne)
Featured in Night 4
The author of the novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family.
 
Frederick Murray- (Lane Garrison)
Featured in Night 4
The racist, pro-secession son of Benjamin Murray, a sentimental, vicious young man who is violent to the slaves on the farm. He is engaged to Nancy Holt.
 
Dr. William Waller- (Matthew Goode)
Featured in Nights 2 & 3
The educated, charming, more refined and successful younger brother of John Waller. William has a more benign manner in handling his slaves though he certainly believes in slavery.
 
Missy Waller- (G Hannelius)
Featured in Night 2
The daughter of John Waller and the best friend of Kizzy until she betrays her.
 
Cyrus- (Tip “T.I.” Harris)
Featured in Night 4
A headstrong slave who fights for freedom for the Union Army against Confederate Forces. He befriends and helps Chicken George.
 
Silla Ba Dibba- (Derek Luke)
Featured in Night 1
A powerful Mandinka fighter who is battle-scarred and highly skilled in ways of combat - he helps train new warriors. He is an icon to the young men of Juffure and an inspiration to Kunta when they are both captured and sold to English slave traders.
 
Tom Lea-(Jonathan Rhys Meyers)
Featured in Nights 2, 3 &4
A poor farmer of Irish descent from the impoverished Carolina hill country.  Craven, aspiring, though at times great fun, always suspicious and can’t rise above a deep rooted jealousy of his betters.  He buys Kizzy as a 15-year- old and rapes her resulting in the birth of their son George whom he takes under his wing and teaches about cock fighting. He has a deep struggle that torments him in owning a slave that is in fact his son.
 
Chicken George-(Regé-Jean Page)
Featured in Nights 3&4
Kizzy’s clever, theatrical and resourceful son. A handsome social magnet who knows how to transfix a crowd with a story, yet doesn’t appreciate what he has until his luck abandons him. He struggles with following his family traditions until he is abandoned by his true father, slave owner, Tom Lea.
 
Nancy Holt-(Anna Paquin)
Featured in Night 4
The Quaker fiancé of Confederate officer, Frederick Murray, she has her own agenda when it comes to the handling of slaves.
 
Jerusalem- (Mekhi Phifer)
Featured in Night 4
A mute slave who works on the Murray plantation, but who is not quite who he appears to be.
 
John Waller- (James Purefoy)
Featured in Nights 2 & 3
An English colonist who is the profligate owner of a Virginia tobacco plantation who buys Kunta Kinte as a slave upon his arrival in America. An alcoholic, deep in debt, braggart, more negligent than mean, he’s unable to keep his farm vital without secret loans from his brother.
 
Kizzy- (Anika Noni Rose)
Featured in Night 3
The cherished and smart only child of Kunta Kinte and Belle who maintains her family pride and warrior spirit.  She is trained to be a warrior by her father, remembering every story about Africa that her father ever told her. She is taught to read by her slave master’s daughter, Missy.  After being raped by her slave master, Tom Lea, she gives birth to her only son, George, the only grandchild of Kunta Kinte.  She perpetuates the dreams and teachings of her father in the rearing of her son.
Young Kizzy (Age 15) Featured in Night 2 is played by Emyri Crutchfield.
 
Matilda- (Erica Tazel)
Featured in Nights 3&4
A preacher’s daughter, literate, modest and religious.  She is swept away by the charm and attention of Chicken George and is the only woman that could tame him and soon thereafter becomes his wife and the mother to his eight children.
 
Tom- (Sedale Threatt Jr.)
Featured in Night 4
The youngest son of George and Matilda. Tom reacts to his father’s spendthrift, wastrel and philandering ways by simply hiding his emotions. A quiet, handsome young man, Tom believes surviving slavery will only come through hard work as a blacksmith. The stories of his great grandfather, Kunta Kinte, resonate for him as parables of hard work and perseverance.  He is provoked when he realizes that he cannot protect his wife and family by keeping his head down, and his inner warrior comes out during the Civil War.
 
Noah- (Mandela Van Peebles)
Featured in Night 2
A lanky teenager and orphaned child of a slave who died in the fields.  Noah is a slave on the Waller plantation who is promised to Kizzy by Dr. Waller, an act which infuriates both Kizzy and her father, Kunta Kinte. Noah is a decent young man though, who grows to love Kizzy and works hard to win her love. Noah proves to have more to him than meets the eye, with a rebellious, determined streak.
 
Fiddler- (Forest Whitaker)
Featured in Nights 1&2
An urbane slave musician who is rented out by the Waller family to play for various plantations, he has “fiddled” his way out of the fields to what he thinks is an especially comfortable life. Fiddler is garrulous, a staunch friend to Kunta who mentors him but learns a great deal from him as well.
 
 

 


 
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