I normally loathe movie remakes, especially remakes of classic acclaimed films that were already superb in their original versions. Rarely ever do the remakes do justice to the original versions. Classic films like The Stepford Wives (1975) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), films with poignant messages regarding racism and sexism, were remade into what were essentially slapstick caricatures in which all the original themes and socio-political commentary of the originals were lost. Only 21st-century Hollywood would even consider taking a film that starred Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, and Sydney Poitier (the movie should have been sacrosanct just by the cast alone), and remaking it into a jejune romantic comedy starring Ashton Kutcher. The list goes on. The Twilight Zone TV series remakes of the 1980s and early 2000s were garbage compared to the original series of the 1950s and 1960s, especially with the original series having had the genius of Rod Serling as an advantage. In the horror genre, Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche in the 1998 Psycho remake couldn’t hold a candle to Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh, and the 1988 remake of The Blob was completely disappointing when compared to the original movie from 30 years prior. And when John Waters’ 1988 movie Hairspray was remade into a movie musical in 2007 that, unlike the original, wasn’t even filmed in my hometown of Baltimore (a heresy!), I never even bothered to watch it, although the musical stage play is outstanding. Suffice it to say, I am just somewhat biased against movie remakes.
But as with most biases, there is an exception. When I heard that the 1977 TV miniseries Roots was being remade into a new TV miniseries that played this week on the History Channel, I was excited. This was not because I didn’t like the original miniseries, which was indeed superb, but because Roots is a story that needs to be retold for a new generation, and to continue being retold for generations to come. As good as the original Roots is, I agree with Mark Wolper, the director of the remake and son of the original Roots director, that his father’s Roots is “no longer good enough.” It needs to be retold to connect to a 2016 audience using a 2016 narrative. This doesn’t mean tweeting the story of Roots using 140 characters, or posting it to SnapChat, but it does mean retelling it in a way that resonates with people today as opposed to nearly 40 years ago when the original miniseries aired. The world in 2016 is not the same world it was in 1977, and will likely not be the same world 40 years in the future. Thus, even though the story of Roots itself is timeless, the way we tell the story should evolve along with time.
When I was first hired as a teacher, I went into the classroom with absolutely no experience or training. I didn’t major in education in college. I didn’t take one single certification course or examination, and apparently was not licensed. I had no idea what I was doing. I was placed into a classroom, and simply told to do the best job I could. I, therefore, had to learn as a I went along until such time that I did meet the requirements for state certification. That first year, I went into a high school classroom and taught the same way that my teachers taught me when I was in high school. I quickly learned that this did not work, and that I had to adapt my style of teaching if I wanted to be an effective educator. The instructional content, core standards, and student expectations did not change, but the pedagogy did. In this same sense, if we want our children to be knowledgeable of history, and to understand its significance, then we must adapt our pedagogy in a way that connects to them while still ingraining into them the value and importance of history and erudition. As Teddy Pendergrass said, it’s “time to teach a new way. Maybe then they’ll listen to what you have to say.” I believe that’s what the Roots remake aims to do- to teach the new generations in the audience in a way that they’ll not only listen, but understand why it’s important.
Having said that, I enjoyed the Roots remake just as much I enjoyed the original version. Malachi Kirby did an excellent job playing job the role of Kunta Kinte, a Mandinka warrior kidnapped from The Gambia and sold into slavery in America at a time when America was at war with England to ironically secure its own freedom, at the exclusion of anyone who was not white. Forest Whitaker also took up the role of Fiddler, despite having mighty big shoes to fill by playing a role that was superbly portrayed by Louis Gossett Jr. in the original version. Speaking of which, the remake did one disappointing change by not including the powerful line said by Fiddler in the original version. After Kunta Kinte was whipped into surrendering his identity, Fiddler (played by Louis Gossett Jr.), uttered the memorable line to the beaten and bloody Kunta, “What you care what that white man call you? You know who you be. Kunta Kinte. That’s who you always be.”
This was in addition to the Gossett’s other memorable (and still relevant) line saying that there’s no bigger battle that the white masters can win than keeping Negroes apart. Someone needs to share that message with the rapping ignoramus known as Snoop Dogg who publicly bashed the series on Instagram. According to Snoop, he’s a “real nigga” who believes that black people should “create our own shit” that “inspires” people today. Because you know, movies like Soul Plane and songs like “Bitch Please” are real inspirational for sure. (-_-)
As I tell my students, history isn’t always pleasant or pretty. It isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. So much of history is ugly and brutal. It’s filled with savagery, atrocity, suffering, violence, avarice, and people oppressing and degrading others for their own selfish gain. It makes us uncomfortable to confront these aspects of history. But if it makes us uncomfortable, then isn’t that a good thing? Ideally, it means that we have learned from history, and we now acknowledge much of its ugliness so much so that its ugliness makes us uneasy. There is danger in ignoring that which makes us uncomfortable, which is why we must continue to learn and teach it so that, as the old saying goes, we are not doomed to repeat it, for we cannot know where we’re going unless we know whence we’ve come. If we want to make a better future, then we cannot make the mistake of forgetting the past or being complacent about the present. After all, the world won’t get no better if we just let it be.