With History Channel’s recent announcement of plans to remake the 1977 miniseries Roots, it is not surprising that questions at TCA’s panel on BET Networks’ The Book of Negroes, based on Lawrence Hill’s novel, called for comparisons to Roots and its groundbreaking success.
Today’s panel on the six-part mini (BET’s first miniseries), premiering Monday Feb. 16 included director/co-writer Clement Virgo, EP Damon D’Oliveira, author Hill and cast members Aunjanue Ellis, Roots veteran Louis Gossett Jr., Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lyriq Bent.
Hill said the novel Roots came out as he was coming of age and he “gobbled it up” and called the miniseries “the gold standard. I was profoundly inspired by Alex Haley and all of his works.”  But he called both the novel and the new miniseries different because it is told from a woman’s point of view as her life is “moving in and out of slavery.”
Panelists were asked to compare the climate in today’s Hollywood to Roots days. “Shonda Rhimes!” crowed Gooding, eliciting laughter.
Gossett was a bit more cautious at acknowledging Hollywood progress. With Roots, he said, producers feared the miniseries “would be shut off from the South” and was gratified when instead “the world embraced us.”  He said that Roots paved the way for the Academy Award-winning 12 Years a Slave.
“We’ve made progress. Not perfection, but steps in the right direction,” he said.  “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”