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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Roots (2016) is a remake of the critically acclaimed 1977 miniseries of the same name that won nine Emmys, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody Award. (Both miniseries are based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family.) The visuals are graphically violent and painfully realistic and range from whippings, hangings, amputations, and human branding to battle scenes involving shootings, stabbings, explosions, and executions. Sexual violence, including rape, is strongly suggested, but no sensitive parts are shown, and audible language includes the "N" word. Some characters drink socially to the point of drunkenness. As brutal as the content is, this update is an excellent conversation starter for families to use to discuss slavery.
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What's the story?
Based on Alex Haley's best-selling book of the save name, ROOTS (2016) is a remake of the landmark TV miniseries that gripped the nation when it first aired in 1977 and made U.S. television history with record ratings. It follows the story of enslaved African boy Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby) and his eventual descendants, tracing their long journey to eventual freedom after decades of bondage and unspeakable suffering. The ensemble cast includes Oscar winners Forest Whitaker and Anna Paquin, Tony winner Anika Noni Rose, and Golden Globe winner Jonathan Rhys Meyers. LeVar Burton, who played Kunta Kinte in the original miniseries, serves as an executive producer.
Is it any good?
If you still haven't seen the groundbreaking TV miniseries that inspired this four-part History Channel reboot, add it to your watch list yesterday. That said, we can tell you that this deeply moving remake is equally excellent. The story is just as powerful, the acting is equally affecting, and the message it imparts is still important -- in some ways, even more so -- nearly 40 years later.
A word of caution: Though it's rated TV-14, the level of violence here is truly graphic, and even adults will have trouble getting through some of the series' toughest moments. But Roots' realistic depictions of what enslaved Africans endured over several generations is essential to understanding the black experience, and older teens who watch will gain critical insight into America's complicated racial history.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the ways in which Roots (2016) depicts violent acts against enslaved Africans and whether it shows too much -- or not enough. What were the realities of life for black people in America's slave era, and how does that compare to the lives of Roots' main characters?
How does Roots (2016) compare to the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries of the same name, and how do both series compare to the book that inspired it? What are the pros and cons of remaking a television classic?
Should Roots (2016) be required viewing for older kids and teens, or is the on-screen violence too graphic to offset the educational value? What lessons do kids stand to learn if their parents let them watch? How does Roots relate to modern-day discussions about race in America?
- In theaters: May 30, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: August 23, 2016
- Cast: Malachi Kirby, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anna Paquin, Forest Whitaker, Laurence Fishburne
- Directors: Bruce Beresford, Thomas Carter, Mario Van
- Studios: A&E Home Video, Lifetime, History Channel
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character Strengths: Courage, Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 383 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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