Actress Anika Noni Rose Talks the Glory of African Civilization & Importance of Countering Revisionist History in ‘Roots’ Remake

Actress Anika Noni Rose speaks to Okayafrica about why 1977 critically-acclaimed miniseries ‘Roots’ deserves a remake.

If you haven’t heard already there’s a Roots reboot—adapted from Alex Haley’s 1976 bestselling titular novel—scheduled to premiere on the HISTORY Channel on Memorial Day.

Both the original TV miniseries Roots and its revival chronicle the life story of Kunta Kinte, a young Mandinka warrior kidnapped and enslaved in America. The 2016 version stands out for its high cinematic value as well as for the depth and nuance with which it portrays Kinte’s home life in precolonial Gambia before he and other West African slaves were herded like cattle onto a slave ship bound for America, and weaves throughout its storytelling Kunta Kinte's strong African identity.

Roots was responsible for awakening a “whole new level of Afrocentrism,” prompting many black Americans to trace their lineage back to Africa, actress Anika Noni Rose, who stars as Kizzi, Kunta Kinte's daughter, in the remake of the classic, tells Okayafrica. And it promises to do so again for a whole new generation of viewers.

“This series explores the glory of that civilization [Kunta Kinte] came from,” Rose says of Roots’ portrayal of Kunta Kinte’s life before he was kidnapped by British slave-catchers. “Despite the narrative that has been spun, [Africans] had libraries. They had universities and people were thriving.”

Rose explains she agreed to sign onto Marvin Van Peebles-directed Roots—which boasts a star-studded cast, including actors Forest Whitaker and Laurence Fishburne with LeVar Burton, who originally portrayed Kunta Kinte, as co-executive producer—because “it’s a new time and we need to tell the story for new eyes.”

The eight-hour A+E Studios production does this through its no-holds-barred approach to depicting the violence and abject horror enslaved Africans endured on southern plantations for centuries, particularly the bone-chilling scene when Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby) is whipped mercilessly until he accepts his European name “Toby.”

“These are the stories that deserve to be told over and over again. As much as we hear about the Jewish holocaust, we need to hear about our holocaust,” says Rose, the Tony-award winning actress, who has appeared in films like For Colored GirlsPrincess and the Frog, and Dream Girls.

Advances in technology from Google to DNA testing makes Roots’ reimagining, which is scheduled to air over the course of four nights, all the more timely, necessary and poignant.

The retelling of the epic, Emmy-Award winning miniseries arrives at a time when textbook publisher McGraw-Hill Education was accused of revisionist storytelling last fall after Texas mom Roni Dean-Burren noticed her son’s “World Geography” textbook referred to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade as immigration and African slaves as workers on agricultural plantations.

And for those who may be suffering from a slave narrative hangover, potentially caused by Hollywood’s renewed interest as depicted in Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave, breakout TV show Underground, and Nate Parker’s highly anticipated film The Birth of a Nation, Rose adds, Roots ' retelling presents a counter-narrative for anyone who may think that African Americans’ origins began with slavery.

“We owe these children growing up black, white, and otherwise, the truth of the people that came before them. For every enslaved person who died, escaped, was tortured, learned to read against all odds—this story needs to be told.”

Watch Roots when it airs on May 30 at 9 p.m. EST.


The Best African Memes of 2018

Laugh with us into 2019 with OkayAfrica's best African memes of 2018.

Meme culture has become a mainstay on these internet streets. It's essentially an alternate form of communicating, of commentary and of simple laughter. 2018 had its fair share of highs and lows, and young Africans continue to utilize memes to celebrate or to cope with the nonsense.

To reflect on the African memes that broke the internet this year, we tapped contributors and African meme tastemakers to list the best African memes of 2018.

Laugh away below.

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The Black Women Who Made Big Strides in France in 2018

Yes, this was a bad year for many reasons, but we can still celebrate the black women who rose to prominence

Back in 2015, a group of Black women activists appeared in the French media: les afrofems. They were and still are, fighting against police brutality, for better inclusion in the media and to destroy harmful sexual stereotypes surrounding black women among other worthy goals. Since then, more influential Black women have gained a bigger representation in the media. And, even better, some of the afrofems activists, like Laura Nsafou and Amandine Gay, have made films and written books to bring more diversity to the entertainment industry.

2018 has, in many ways, been a year where black women made strides in France, at least in terms of culture. From winning Nobel prizes, to having best selling books and being on top of the charts, Black French women have showed that, no matter how much France wants to keep them under the radar, they're making moves. And, no matter the tragedies and terrible events that have shaped the year, it is something worth celebrating.

France's New Queen of Pop Music

We begin with Aya Nakamura, France's new queen of pop music. Her song Djadja was a summer hit. Everyone from Rihanna, to the French football team who successfully won their second world cup, sang it. Her sophomore album "Nakamura" has been certified gold in France and is still on top of the charts. She is the first French singer to have a number one album in the Netherlands since Edith Piaf in 1961. The last time a black woman was as visible in pop music was in 2004, with Lynsha's single "Hommes...Femmes".

Nakamura has received a huge backlash, mostly due to misogynoir—misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles. From a French presenter butchering her African first name despite the fact that he can easily pronounce words like "Aliagas", to online trolls calling her ugly and manly when a picture of her wearing no makeup surfaced, to people complaining that she is bringing down the quality of the entire French pop music industry, Nakamura responds to her critics gracefully. Her music is not groundbreaking but her album is full of catchy songs with lyrics using French slang she masters so well that she came up with her own words like "en catchana" (aka doggy style sex). And most importantly, many black girls and women can finally see someone like them in the media getting the success she deserves.

The Nobel Prize Winner

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Another Black French woman has broken records this year: the Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé who won the Alternative Nobel Prize, a prize meant to replace the Nobel Prize in Literature, after the scandal that the Swedish Academy of Literature faced last year. Condé wrote her first novel at only 11 years old and has been prolific ever since. A former professor of French literature at Columbia University, she has published more than 20 books since the 1970s, exploring the complex relationships within the African diaspora. "Segu", her most famous novel, is about the impact of the slave trade and Abrahamic religion on the Bambara empire in Mali in the 19th century. Condé's work is radical and she remains committed to writing feminist texts exploring the link between gender, race and class, as well as exploring the impact of colonialism. Condé is a pillar of Caribbean literature and it's taken long enough for her work has been acknowledged by the Nobel prize committee.

The Children's Books Writers

From Comme un Million de Papillon Noir

And finally, 2018 has been the year where France's children's literature industry has finally understood how important, for the public, writers and publishers, being inclusive and diverse was. From Laura Nsafou's Comme un Million de Papillon Noir, a best selling book about a young black girl learning to love her natural hair which sold more than 6000 copies, to Neiba Je-sais-tout: Un Portable dans le Cartable, the second book of Madina Guissé published this year after a successful crowdfunding campaign, there are more and more children's and young adult books with non white protagonists. In France, there are still no stats about how diversity is doing, but in America, in 2017, only 7 percent of writers of children's literature were either Black, Latino or Native American.

There's still much to accomplish in France for the Black community to have better representation in the media, politics and all walks of life, but important strides have been accomplished this year, and it make me hopeful for what 2019 and the following years have in store.


J Hus Has Been Sentenced to Eight Months in Jail for Knife Possession

The rapper has been convicted following an arrest in June.

Gambian-Biritish grime rapper J Hus has been sentenced to eight months in prison for knife possesion, reports BBC News.

The artist, neé Momodou Jallow, was arrested in Stratford London in June when police pulled him over near a shopping center, claming that they smelled cannabis. Police officers asked Hus if he was carrying anything illegal, to which the rapper admitted that he had a 10cm folding knife in his possession. When asked why, he responded: "You know, it's Westfield."

Hus pleaded guilty at a hearing in October after initially pleading not guilty.

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