More than four decades after Roots first aired on television, the mini-series is “just as relevant and important now than ever,” according to John Amos. John, 82, portrayed the older Kunta Kinte in the landmark 1977 television event, and he tells HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY that the series’ message is needed “even more so [today], especially in this political climate.” As conservatives argue over what can and cannot be taught in America’s classrooms, John and his Roots costar, Louis Gossett Jr., say that the younger generation needs to know the actual history and not a sugar-coated version of it.
“I would think that [viewers] would get some that are receptive and keep an open mind of our history as a country, and they would be receptive to it and enlightened by seeing Roots again and elevated because they see the incomparable human spirit that is the substance of America,” John tells HollywoodLife. “We all came here one way or another whether in the ships’ first-class or on the bottom of the ships figuratively… to have a better life.”
“So one way or another, Roots is more important now, perhaps as it was even then. It was revelatory, and it can still be revelatory to some less-enlightened individuals by what really happened during the period of slavery,” adds Amos. “When you think about the impact of it on a global basis, that is the institution of slavery itself — it needs to be recorded, needs to be remembered by mankind so it never ever happens again. And yet, it is ongoing. There is still slavery in the world.”
“It is going to take us all to save us all,” Louis, 85, tells HollywoodLife. “Our planet is dying. There is not enough health in the water. Fish are unhealthy and the vegetables, the animals won’t eat that anymore… So we have to stop and take a chill pill in so many avenues and know that it is going to take mankind to save mankind. We are in this 747 airplane, and it’s about to crash, and people are still busy fighting about who is going to be in first class. Doesn’t make any sense anymore. We need to all join together for our mutual salvation.”
Based on Alex Haley’s 1976 novel of the same name, Roots told the story of the Black experience in America. It began with Kunta Kinte (Levar Burton), a young man taken from The Gambia in 1750 and sold into slavery. Kunta is bought by an abusive white plantation owner, and assigned to an older slave, Fiddler (Gossett Jr.), to learn the ways of servitude. The series follows the lives of Kunta’s descendants and the trials and challenges they faced as Black people in America. The book was a smash hit. The mini-series was also a ratings hit, with “51.1 percent of all American TV homes tuned to ABC for the conclusion” of the series, per Vulture.
With Republicans using “critical race theory” – an “academic and legal framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society, from education and housing to employment and healthcare,” according to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund – as an academic boogie-man, conservatives have moved to silence any discussions about systemic racism, diversity, or any race-conscious policies.
When asked if they’d like to see more stories told about the history of slavery, the impact it has had on this nation, and stories like the history of Juneteenth, both Jon and Louis responded with an emphatic “yes.”
“It should be on all subjects, so we know everything about everyone,” said Louis Gossett Jr. “So we can, as I said… It is going to take mankind to save mankind… There is nobody in charge, here we are together now!”
“Look, Roots has its place alongside Schindler’s List and several other films that I could name that have had a global impact on people’s thinking and consciousness,” adds John Amos. “And it should be, as Schindler’s List and several other films and novels, books be risen to the point where they should be and become part of a curriculum. Our youngest children need to know about Roots and these other things that have happened in the course of humanity. Education can never be a bad thing, and there can never be bad education, there can be miseducation but never really truly bad education because it takes a receptive mind to take in bad information.”