PARIS — LeVar Burton was initially skeptical of remaking “Roots,” the groundbreaking miniseries that launched his career in 1977.
But Burton, who played a young Kunta Kinte, overcame those concerns after seeing the educational value in helping the new generation of Americans better relate to the plight of slaves and African-American history, particularly after the election of Barack Obama, the United States’ first black president.
“It was time. Almost 40 years had passed. It made sense. If we want to keep these stories alive in the cultural consciousness, we have to reinvent them and retell them,” he said.
The current political climate in the U.S., he said, “has triggered a fear, an underlying sense of disquiet that was there all along.”
Burton is the executive director of the new “Roots,” which will debut on the History Channel next month. The all-star cast includes Laurence Fishburne, Forest Whitaker, Anna Paquin and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, with newcomer Malachi Kirby as a young Kinte.
The cast was on hand last week at MIPTV, Cannes’ annual television fair, which rolled out the red carpet for the world premiere of the reboot.
Burton spoke about the importance of keeping slavery awareness alive, and expressed concern that other films might portray it more for entertainment.
“The condition of the enslavement of a people is not fodder for anyone’s entertainment. This is not a game. This is not to be made light of,” he said.
Both the remake and the original are based on the late writer Alex Haley’s book “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.”