A+E Networks announced new casting for its four-night, eight-hour 2016 miniseries Roots, including Forest Whitaker as Fiddler, an enslaved African who tries to mentor Kunta Kinte and risks his life to help him escape; Anna Paquin as Nancy Holt, the wife of a Confederate officer who has her own agenda when it comes to the handling of enslaved Africans; Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Tom Lea, an uneducated owner of enslaved Africans desperate to claw his way into the elite company of Southern gentility; Anika Noni Rose as Kizzy, the daughter of Kunta Kinte who maintains her family pride and warrior spirit; Chad L. Coleman as Mingo, a stern no-nonsense enslaved African who keeps the Lea plantation afloat; Erica Tazel as Matilda, a preacher’s daughter and love interest to Chicken George; and Derek Luke as Silla Ba Dibba, the military trainer of Juffure, charged with transforming teen boys into powerful Mandinka warriors.
Main character Kunta Kinte is a Mandinka warrior who is educated, proud, strong and resilient—all traits that empower him when he is captured by slavers. Chicken George, Kizzy’s son, is a handsome social magnet who knows how to transfix a crowd with a story, yet doesn’t appreciate what he has until his luck abandons him.
The newly cast actors are joined by previously announced Laurence Fishburne as Alex Haley, the author of the novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Production is underway in New Orleans and set to begin later this month in South Africa.
Filmmakers Mario Van Peebles and Bruce Beresford are set to direct nights two and four, respectively. They join previously announced Phillip Noyce and Thomas Carter (who are directing nights one and three, respectively). Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is also on-board as the Roots executive music producer.
In an EBONY.com exclusive, Questlove reveals, “Right now I’m doing the score. I wrote the theme. The main score of Alex Haley’s Roots re-do is called ‘Binta’s Theme.’ Basically, they’re having this recurring motif that will somehow travel through all eras of this movie. So it starts with Kunta Kinte’s grandmother in Africa singing this to herself in the fields. And somehow this haunting melody will find its way into the psyche of whatever character.
“So I mean, it could be Kunta on the plantation in a church and he hears something like, ‘oh damn, that reminds me of that song my grandmom used to sing,’ ” he continues. “And then Chicken George and Kizzy will hear that: ‘oh man, this is what Kunta used to sing in the church.’ And there’ll be a juke joint. And then Alex Haley will hear it: ‘sounds just like the song my aunt Kizzy used to…’ And then Alex Haley’s grandchildren will be at the EDM club [laughter].”
Roots is a historical portrait of American slavery recounting the journey of one family’s will to survive, endure and ultimately carry on their legacy despite enormous hardship and inhumanity. Spanning multiple generations, the lineage begins with young Kunta Kinte, who is captured in his homeland of the Gambia and transported in brutal conditions to colonial America, where he’s sold into slavery. Throughout the series, the family continues to face adversity while bearing witness and contributing to notable events in U.S. history, including the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, slave uprisings and eventual emancipation.
The story of Kunta Kinte and the women and men who came after him echoes through the history of millions of Americans of African descent, and reveals powerful truths about the universal resilience of the human spirit.