I was not impressed with the reboots of popular franchises like Psycho,Poltergeist or The Day the Earth Stood Still. But those were movies, so imagine my surprise when I see the History Channel running trailers for, of all things, a miniseries remake of Roots.
How do you bring yourself to contemplate remaking Roots, a miniseries that changed not only television but had an indelible imprint on our history and culture? I shook my head in disbelief. This for me is another example of mainstream media and Hollywood's obsession with "slave" narratives.
My discomfort for such work started in film school when I was one of the only black students in a film theory class watching of The Birth of a Nation, the notorious 1915 silent film that casts the Klan in a positive light. I got through the film because I needed to reference it as a film theorist but I vowed I would never subject myself to sitting through it again. This ambivalence has stuck with me, although I sometimes still — for the purposes of critique — allow myself to be subjected to such visuals.
But I became almost militant against not allowing another slave narrative to breach my defenses after viewing 12 Years A Slave. I battled with my conscious for weeks after the film was nominated for Best Picture and gave in, justifying my decision by stating it was my duty as someone who critiques media and popular culture to watch a film recognized by the Academy. Boy, was I wrong.
It took me weeks to shake off the psychological funk that permeated my mind after witnessing the brutality the characters in the film endured, especially the violence inflicted on Lupita Nyong'o. The film left me feeling angry, defeated, disillusioned and off-balance. I felt like I needed to watch a marathon of Disney movies just to get back to center.
As I often do while meditating on a subject, I recently queried my social networks for thoughts on whether we really need another version of Roots. Many agree with my thoughts: that mainstream media has an agenda to support and produce narratives that show black folks being subservient that reinforce white supremacy.
And if you think this is just folks being paranoid, may I direct your attention to a recent Hollywood film,Gods of Egypt. To place the power of visual suggestion to task I viewed the film recently. I "acquired" the film, as I refused to pay and cosign what I already suspected would be a historical and culturally inaccurate hot mess. I was not mistaken. The film depicted the ancient Egyptian Gods as Caucasians ruling over darker subjects.
I remember learning about Egypt in school and marveling at how folks talked about it as some fairy tale place, never mentioning that the kingdom inspiring such knowledge, wisdom and cultural advances was indeed in Africa.
This blatant rewriting of history is intentional. The obsession with the slave narrative is out of control. We have Amistad, Django Unchained, The Birth of a Nation, the series Underground and now a newRoots.
There is a tremendous toll placed on the psyche and spirit of conscious black folks to have to watch films where people who look like them are subjected to unspeakable violence and horrors. Such narratives also give folks in the mainstream the false illusion that everything is so much better now in comparison; a dangerous falsehood. Marginalized folks are still catching hell today.
My mom required us to watch Roots when it made its historical and monumental debut on national television, still boasting as one of the most watched miniseries and programs of our time. I remember what an impact it was seeing how African-Americans lived, endured and survived slavery.
A reboot of Roots just supports a running theme of subjugation and conformity to a system of oppression. I believe the obsession with slave narratives and keeping us looking back is an attempt to distract us from real and present challenges. Those challenges include the disparity of violence against black bodies by authority figures and the ugly truth that our system will not protect us or hold people accountable for said violence, like the recent decision to clear the officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. The narrative also helps distract folks from the continued insult to Trayvon Martin's family as they watch the sociopath George Zimmerman over $100K selling the gun he used to slaughter their son.
So I will pass on Roots the remix, a further distraction. I prefer to keep my focus on the very present challenges of the here and now.