Cape Town – When the History Channel first announced it was remaking Roots, the news received mixed reviews.
“They just want to keep showing the abuse that we took hundreds of years ago,” Snoop Dogg vented as he took to social media.
However, the four-part series which premieres in South Africa on History (DStv 186) on Wednesday, 15 June at 20:30 has been widely praised by critics and audiences alike.
Watch the trailer here:
We caught up with Rege-Jean Page, who plays the role of Chicken George in the newly remade series, to chat about being part of the remake.
Were you familiar with the original series before you were cast?
Yes, I had encountered Roots a few times already. It was given to me as a child, I must have been eight or ten and then again in high school it turned up in class at some point. Then when I got the part I watched it a third time. Each time you watch it you take on very different things of the story.
Why do you think this series needed a modern remake? And that now was the right time for it?
I don’t think there is ever a wrong time to listen to your grandparents' stories. It’s the kind where you sit on the porch and say ‘Grandma what happened to you? Where do we come from? What is our history?’
We’ve had forty years of conversations, of scholarships, of research and much of that was started by the first Roots and so in terms of updating a part of history that is so important to our sense of identity and that changed so much about our sense of identity it is absolutely appropriate that thirty/forty years later you update your history textbooks.
The original series has a great legacy, did you feel any pressure when you signed on to do it?
Absolutely! It was incredibly intimidating and an overwhelming responsibility. But with that responsibility comes a huge honour because this character, this series, this story was already owned and loved by millions before we stepped onto set the first day. The responsibility was to bring something worthwhile to contribute to that and build on it otherwise it would all be for nothing.
What drew you to the role of Chicken George?
The casting director mostly (laughs), but in terms of how I related to him is the fact that George is an immensely ambitious young man. He absolutely refused to be defined by his circumstances and he doesn’t let that get in the way of his human anguish.
He wants to know what the world has to offer him and he wants to demolish any barriers that might stand in his way to have any right to do so. I think that is very relatable and I find that very charming about him.
How did you prepare for the role?
I prepared in a number of ways. I flew out to the South as soon as I could and like most people I got to know my character. I read books, I listened to music, I did everything I could to fill this role in a way that will correctly represent the people that have been misrepresented for so long.
You have to understand what the sense of identity it is that you are representing to make sure you are more specific and not vague. It’s not about what people lived through it’s about the people that lived through it, it’s not the circumstance it’s the personality and individuality. That’s what I was most concerned with.
What were some of the challenges you faced during filming?
We did most of the filming in Louisiana, I wasn’t lucky enough to go to South Africa when they were shooting, but we worked through June, July, August and it was like 100 degrees with 100% humidity every day and the bugs in Louisiana do not mess about! They bite everyone, they are not prejudice at all.
It was also quite challenging to get into this space where every second day you’d have to do 10 takes of having your heart broken and that’s very draining emotionally and physically.
What do you want the younger audience who have not seen the original series to take away from the remake?
I want them to realise that every character in this series could be any one of us today and that it is not a narrative about slaves or even about slavery. It’s about a family who has struggled to retain their identity through oppression and that is entirely universal and contemporary and it’s something that we all need to watch out for.
We need to guard our history and we need to update our knowledge of our history and find ways to keep sharing it.
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