Roots (2016 miniseries)

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]

Promotional poster
Based onRoots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley
Written byLawrence Konner
Mark Rosenthal
Alison McDonald
Charles Murray
Directed byBruce Beresford
Thomas Carter
Phillip Noyce
Mario Van Peebles
StarringMalachi 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
Narrated byIke Amadi
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes4
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)
CinematographyPeter Menzies, Jr.
Editor(s)James Wilcox
Running time95 minutes
Production company(s)The Wolper Organization
Will Packer Productions
A&E Studios
DistributorWarner Bros. Television Distribution
Original networkHistory Channel
Picture format480p, 1080i (HDTV)
Original releaseMay 30 
June 2, 2016
Preceded byRoots
Roots: The Next Generations
Roots: The Gift
External links


Part 1

In the 1760s, Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby) is a Mandinka warrior from Jufureh 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. One day, Kunta is taken off into the jungle with other young boys for man-hood training. During a test in which Kunta must run through the jungle in a certain amount of time, he sees a man's dead body in a canoe. Kunta then sees the Koros in a separate boat, hunting for vulnerable people to capture. Kunta reports this to his teachers, who decide that it's best for training to end.

After a ceremony, Kunta tells his father that he wants to go to university in another city, to which his father disagrees. Kunta then runs off into the jungle, where he meets up with his lover, Jinna. However the two are then surrounded by the Koros, who are looking to hold Kunta for ransom. However, Kunta runs away, killing one of the Koros in the process. He is then subdued, and the Koros contemplate selling him to the English.

Kunta and Jinna are sold to the Lord Ligonier, a slave ship, with other Mandinkas, including Kunta's uncle, Silla. While boarding the ship, Silla attempts to escape, but is shot in the arm and restrained. Kunta and Silla are then chained in the brig of the ship with hundreds of other captives. One day, Jinna tries to jump off the ship, but is caught and taken to the captain, possibly to be raped. This provokes the other captives, and to prevent a mutiny, the ship's crew have Silla's arm cut off, not only because of it being infected by the gunshot, but also to intimidate the other prisoners. Despite this, Kunta is still able to start an uprising, but it is suppressed, and the captives are transported across the Atlantic Ocean to Annapolis, Maryland, where he is sold to John Waller (James Purefoy), who owns a tobacco plantation in Virginia. Kunta is renamed Toby, and put under the care of a musician slave called Fiddler, whose real name is Henry (Forest Whitaker). Throughout the months, Kunta tries to adapt to life on the plantation, but still thinks about escape. One night, while singing a song from his homeland, Fiddler reveals that he once heard his grandmother singing the same song, implying that she was a Mandinka that was kidnapped from Africa. Kunta then is able to obtain a sharp object to cut the chains that restrain him.

With the aid of Fiddler, Kunta makes an escape attempt at 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. There, Kunta makes friends with another runaway, named Carlton. Kunta's regiment is then sent to fight a faction of minutemen. But without proper weapons, Kunta realizes that the escaped slaves were only meant to act as human shields for the British, and the regiment is slaughtered. Kunta escapes with Carlton, who is later killed by an unknown gunman. Kunta is eventually re-captured and, as punishment, his right foot is chopped off.

Kunta 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 Fiddler distracts so Kunta and the baby can slip away. This results in Fiddler'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 Noah attempted outrun them, the search party shoots him multiple times therefore killing him. They discover a forged road pass written by Kizzy. This results in Dr. Waller learning of Kizzy's literacy.

Dr. Waller then sells Kizzy to a poor slaveholder named 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 Tom Lea names George, apparently after his father. 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, along with another slave, Mingo. After seeing Mingo gain respect for winning a cockfight, George takes special interest in the sport. However, 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, when Lea learns of Nat Turner's slave rebellion, during a cockfight. Lea, like many other whites, begins to suspect that all slaves might be planning to rebel. During the chaos, Mingo is beaten, and badly injured. On the way home, Lea points a gun at George after being provoked by white militia men. When the three return home, they find all of the slave barracks burnt to the ground. When Lea runs off to find his wife, Patricia, George runs into the woods to find his family. Once there, Matilda reveals that it was a group of white men that burnt down the farm, due to thinking that Lea was dead. Mingo eventually dies from his wounds, causing George to become bitter and cold. Kizzy then reveals that Lea truly is George's father.

George and Matilda marry and have several children, the youngest 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 emancipation 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. Before George is taken away, Lea promises to have freed his family before he returns from England.

Part 4

On the eve of the Civil War, George returns from England after his British master gave him his freedom after 20 years. He returns to Tom Lea's farm, now in ruin, and discovers that while he was gone, his mother Kizzy had died and Lea had never freed the rest of his family. 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 wife, Irene, Tom decides to help. Their plans go awry and Nancy and her slave Jerusalem (Mekhi Phifer) are exposed as spies and are hanged by Frederick.

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. The Kinte Family stays for a time as sharecroppers, continuing to work the Murray Plantation in exchange for livestock and food. Once George returns to the Murray Plantation, he, Cyrus, Tom, Matilda and the rest of their family pack up their belongings and head to Tennessee to start a new life. When Frederick threatens them, George shoots him. Once in Tennessee, 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.


Number in parentheses indicates how many episodes in which the actor/character appears.


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 Kinte's mother 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:

  • Jufureh is shown as a large city with ties to major scientific and trade centers, such as Timbuktu. In the original series, Jufereh was depicted as a tiny mud brick village.
  • In the 1977 series, Kunta is captured by a slaving party led by a white hunter. In the 2016 series, Kunta is kidnapped by other Africans as part of a family feud between his clan and one in an opposing village.
  • Kunta Kinte's uncle takes the place of "the Wrestler" seen in the original series. Both characters later help Kunta rebel on the slave ship.
  • An entire sub-plot from the 1977 series, involving the moral dilemma of Captain Davies regarding his command of a slave ship, is removed in the re-make. The captain in the 2016 series is depicted as a wholehearted participant in the slave trade, including the abuse of the female slaves on-board his ship. As with the 1977 series, the slaver first mate is killed in an uprising, but is named "Mr. Carrington" which, in the original series, was the name of the financial agent who met the Lord Ligonier when they made port in order to close on the sale of slaves.
  • When Kunta is sold in Annapolis, the original slave who takes him back to the Virginia plantation is named Sampson (this matches the original book Roots). Fiddler only enters Kunta's life after Sampson is disciplined and sold for letting Kunta escape.
  • Kunta is shown fighting in the Ethiopian Regiment during the American Revolutionary War while his foot is later cut off after he is recaptured by slave hunters. The Revolutionary War service was an addition to the 2016 series and was not mentioned in either the original series or the book. In the 1977 series, Kunta's foot is cut off after he escapes to look for his teenage love from Africa (a girl named Fanta) while Kunta's overseer is fired for letting him escape. In the 2016 series, Kunta kills the overseer before joining the British Army.
  • In the 2016 series, Fiddler is murdered by white slave patrollers on the night of Kizzy's birth. In the original series, Fiddler dies of old age.
  • The names of the white masters in the 2016 series revert to their original names from the book Roots, specifically Reynolds, Moore, and Harvey become Waller, Lea, and Murray. The two Waller masters, who are brothers both in the 1977 and 2016 series, are depicted as far more vicious and racist men than in the original series.
  • In the 1977 series, Kizzy returns to her birth plantation years after being sold with hopes of seeing her parents, only to learn that her mother was sold off four years prior, and her father, now alone without his family, died of a broken heart two years prior. This scene was omitted in the remake with the story-line simply implying Kizzy never saw her parents again after being sold to North Carolina.
  • In the 2016 series, Kizzy's later life love interest is a free black man who attempts to purchase her from Tom Lea. In the original series, this character was a slave whose master was intending to buy Kizzy as a gift for his driver.
  • Chicken George fights two final cock-fight matches in the 2016 series, the first of which he wins and gains his freedom, after which Tom Lea wagers a second bet and re-enslaves George moments later to pay off when he loses. In the original 1977 series, there is only one match which Chicken George loses the first time.
  • Chicken George's time in England is shown in the 2016 series, whereas it is only mentioned in the 1977 series. This storyline is historically inaccurate given that slavery in England had been ruled illegal in 1772 in the watershed Somerset v Stewart case.
  • The later series also shows George's final meeting with his white father (which was a major segment in the book Roots) which was also only alluded to in the 1977 series. Chicken George is further shown joining the Union Army to fight in the Civil War after he leaves North Carolina. In the original series this was only alluded to with none of the Civil War action shown on screen.
  • The major antagonist during the Civil War era is Frederick Murray, the racist son of the Murray plantation owner. In the original series, this character was the town general store owner Evan Brent. The 2016 series also includes a sub-plot, not in the original series or the book Roots, where the mistress of Frederick Murray is a Union spy working for the Pinkerton Detective Agency.
  • The entire Reconstruction era story seen in the 1977 series is omitted in the re-make. Tom Harvey (aka Murray)'s brother Lewis, who was a major character in the final episode of the 1977 series, does not appear in the remake (dialogue states he was sold to another plantation years before). The original series characters "Old George" (played by Brad Davis) and Sheriff Biggs (played by John Quade) also do not appear in the 2016 series.

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 10, 17, and 24th).[8] In Australia, SBS aired the episodes on July 27 and 28, August 3 and 4, 2016.[9]

Roots premiered on BBC Four in the United Kingdom on February 8, 2017.[10]

Expat Persian channel Manoto aired Roots for Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan in July 2017.


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 98%, based on 41 reviews, with an average rating of 8.31/10. 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."[11] On Metacritic the series has a score of 83 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[12] The series received a Primetime Emmy nomination for Best Limited Series.


Year Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
7th Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Movie or Miniseries Nominated [13]
Supporting Actor – Movie or Miniseries Lane Garrison
Forest Whitaker
Supporting Actress – Movie or Miniseries Anna Paquin
68th Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Limited Series Nominated [14]
68th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Outstanding Short Form Nonfiction or Reality Series Roots: A New Version Nominated
Outstanding Narrator Laurence Fishburne Nominated
Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special Victoria Thomas, Moonyeenn Lee, Leo Davids, Lissy Holm, and Meagan Lewis Nominated
Outstanding Costumes for a Period/Fantasy Series, Limited Series, or Movie Ruth E. Carter, Diana Cilliers, Megan "Bijou" Coates, Hetta Burger, Meagan McLaughlin Luster, Gillian Gregg (for: "Night One") Nominated
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Limited Series or Movie Tony Ward, Adam Gaeta, Talli Pachter, Sherri B. Hamilton (for: "Part One") Nominated
Outstanding Make-up for a Limited Series or Movie (Non-Prosthetic) Aimee Stuit, Christa Schoeman, Niqui da Silva, Paige Reeves, Marike Liebetrau (for: "Night One") Nominated
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special Gary Megregian, Stuart Martin, Andrew Dawson, Steve M. Stuhr, Jason Krane, Christian Buenaventura, Timothy A. Cleveland, Paul Diller, John Snider, Marcello Dubaz, Michael Sana, Daniel Salas, Matt Shelton, Noel Vought, Ginger Geary (for: "Part Two") Nominated
Visual Effects Society Awards 2016 Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode Simon Hansen, Paul Kalil, Theo le Roux Priest, Wicus Labuschange, Max Poolman (for "Night One") Nominated [15]

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". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  2. Andreeva, Nellie (November 5, 2013). "History To Remake Iconic 'Roots' Miniseries". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 6, 2013.
  3. Andreeva, Nellie (2015-04-30). "'Roots' Remake Set For History, A&E, Lifetime; Will Packer, LeVar Burton Produce". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2015-05-17.
  4. "Roots: Official Trailer | Premieres Memorial Day 2016 | History". YouTube. February 11, 2016. 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. "BBC Four Sets UK Premiere Date For 'Roots' Reboot - TVWise". TVWise. 2017-01-25. Retrieved 2017-01-25.
  11. "Roots (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  12. "Roots (2016)". Metacritic. Retrieved May 30, 2016.
  13. Lincoln, Ross (November 14, 2016). "Critics' Choice TV Nominations Unveiled". Retrieved November 15, 2016.
  14. "Emmys 2016: Tatiana Maslany, Rami Malek, 'Game of Thrones' and Jimmy Kimmel lead a gala that reflects TV's bold new age". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  15. Giardina, Carolyn (January 10, 2016). "'Rogue One' Leads Visual Effects Society Feature Competition With 7 Nominations As 'Doctor Strange,' 'Jungle Book' Grab 6 Each". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 10, 2016.
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