When the idea to revive Roots came about, executive producer Mark Wolper admitted he was apprehensive. “Socially it was too important of a project,” he said Sunday during A+E Networks’ panel at Deadline’s The Contenders Emmys. “The fact that my father (David Wolper) produced the original was a little much weight and burden to take on.”
Wolper said a change of heart came when he watched the original with his son. When it was over, his son said he understood why is was so important but that it didn’t speak to him now. “I realized I do need to tell this again and over and over again, and maybe 30 years from now we’ll do it again. It’s a story in history that has to be told.”
Wolper was joined on the panel at the DGA Theater by director Mario Van Peebles, who helmed Night 2 of the four-part miniseries, which he described as “not your mother’s history lesson.” The series will be simulcast on A+E’s History and be simulcast on A&E and Lifetime over four consecutive nights beginning Memorial Day, May 30.
Wolper said he approached the redo as a movie because “the bar in television is set so high… we needed powerful directors to come in and do it, and the only way it could happen is if we told them it’s a film.” He noted that each night is independent of the other, but “connected by four generations of the Kunte Kinte/Alex Haley family.”
Wolper spoke about the relevance of TV and film in terms of bringing awareness. “Clearly there are problems and issues in America. You can’t resolve the problems unless you understand why the problems are here. The best way to communicate, I think to anybody, is through film. …. We can use television, not just to entertain, but to do so much more. To provoke conversations, to educate, and to get my 16-year-old kid to want to watch this story and care about what it says.
Added Peebles: “If you don’t make film that starts a conversation or provokes a conversation, than you are wasting space. With [Roots] we went there. It’s going to be a conversation starter.”