"Menace II Society", "American Pimp" and "Dead Presidents," has signed on to direct a remake of the mini series "Roots" for the History Channel. On one level, I realize that Hollywood's obsession with slavery is probably fuel by an inner yearning for the good old days, the same way that most Black History Month themes in public schools focus on slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, with little to no reflection on what happened before between or after these events.
I can also understand why they would want to remake this classic program for another reason. I remember being in third grade when "Roots" first aired on ABC. The show was a monumental event on a number of levels and ended up setting records for awards and ratings. At the time, it was an amazing and moving story, except for one line that would bring my Grandpa to hysterical laughter: the scene when Ben Vereen asks Chuck Connors, "Is you my daddy?"
Finding the mini series in Ocean State Job Lot for $4.99 a few years back, I remember re-watching it and realizing that it was a better parody of slavery and slave movies then anything I'd ever seen before or since. Dave Chapelle couldn't have done a better job. The high lights:
- Africans in Gambia with southern accents.
- O.J. Simpson running down Kunta Kinte the same way that he ran through the airport in the old Avis commercials ("Run, O.J., run!!!")
- Ed Asner feeling bad about the fact that he's about to rape an African captive.
- Young Kunta Kinte not being able to speak English, growing up Muslim, and still recognizing what pork looks and smells like, as well as reacting to the word when Fiddler brings his dinner.
- Robert Reed swishing through the scenes and is supposed to convince us that he's carrying on with a woman.
- Kunta Kinte is from Gambia, had been through the 'man training' program but seems unable to read or write in Arabic, which a Mandingo warrior from Gambia would have been able to do.
- Kunta Kinte's wife, Belle, keeps slipping between a Jamaican and southern accent.
- Lawrence Hilton Jacobs playing the character Noah with the same swagger that he used as Freddie Washington in "Welcome Back Kotter" and Cocheese in "Coolie High".
- Redboned Leslie Uggams and blonde haired and blue- eyed Chuck Connors are the parents of dark skinned Ben Vereen (who I believe was older than Uggams).
- Working the Amistad revolt, Nat Turner's rebellion, peonage, and the formation of the KKK into the story line, implying that Haley's ancestors were like the Forrest Gumps of the slave era.
It's rather funny when you consider that almost 30 years ago, Robert Townsend and his film "Hollywood Shuffle" make fun of the elements of Hollywood that are doing exactly what Hughes has signed on for: Black people can only be slaves or gangsters and with the exception of one post-apocolyptic tale, slave and gangster stories are pretty much Hughes' stock and trade. It would be too much to ask him to work on a film about Toussaint Louveture, Denmark Vessey, the fore mentioned Nat Turner, Marcus Garvey or Noble Drew Ali.
I can't wait to see the casting for this film. Don Cheadle as Kunta Kinte, Will Smith as Fiddler, Kerry Washington as Kizzy, and Drake/ Aubrey Graham as Chicken George.
Cant' wait to see it... or maybe I can...