It’s been four decades since the original Roots miniseries redefined the way America saw itself and the slave trade that shaped its national identity. Now, the remake retells the story, with the benefit of 40 years of evolution in televisual storytelling techniques and changing racial attitudes. Here are six of the main characters, to get you primed for some excellent and provoking viewing. (Spoiler-averse viewers bewaaaaare.)
Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby)
A Mandinka warrior from Gambia, Kunta Kinte is kidnapped and sold to slavers before being transported to the colony of Virginia. There, he’s sold to John Waller and put to work on a tobacco plantation, where he struggles to maintain his independence through torture and constant attempts to break his spirit.
Fiddler (Forest Whitaker)
A talented musician, Fiddler lives a life of relative luxury. Upon his arrival at John Waller’s plantation, Kunta Kinte is put under Fiddler’s care to learn the ropes and accept his new name – Toby. Before long, the pair become friends as Fiddler’s viewpoint shifts to encompass Kunta Kinte’s fierce warrior spirit.
John Waller (James Purefoy)
A debt-ridden alcoholic braggart, John Waller is not an enlightened slave owner. Secret loans from his brother, Dr William Waller, barely keep the plantation afloat, and before long the only way to clear those debts is for John to hand over his slaves.
Kizzy Waller (Anika Noni Rose)
Kunta Kinte’s daughter begins the next generation of the story, showing what life was like for slaves born in America (horrific, generally). After a botched escape attempt from Dr William Waller’s property, she ends up owned by Tom Lea, which changes her life from the first night under his roof. She gives birth to a boy, George, who is Tom’s slave from birth.
Tom Lea (Jonathan Rhys Meyers)
A dissolute and petty-minded man who is constantly struggling to keep up with his neighbours, Tom Lea rapes Kizzy from the night she arrives. He feels conflicted about raising a slave who is also his son, but salves his conscience by taking the boy under his wing and teaching him about cockfighting.
Chicken George (Regé-Jean Page)
As his name suggests, Chicken George grows up to be a skilled breeder and trainer of fighting cocks, which makes Tom Lea a wealthy man. Unfortunately, there’s more betrayal to come at the hands of his master and father, who has a propensity to make promises he can’t keep.
Matilda (Erica Tazel)
The daughter of a slave preacher, Matilda marries George and has eight of his children. After a bet goes south and George is sent to England in chains, she is forced to become the centre of the family, a matriarch holding things together through faith and love despite being separated from her soulmate.
Roots premieres on Wednesday 27 July at 8:30pm on SBS and encores on Saturday 30 July, 9.30pm on NITV. After they air, episodes will be available on SBS On Demand.
Watch the preview right here: