Most of these films are told from the viewpoint of a benevolent white protagonist. Or the slave/domestic shows "quiet dignity," in the face of brutal oppression, until a white protector arrives to set them free. These stories are less threatening and thus more acceptable to white audiences.
It's bizarre that creators of Hollywood stories about slavery are burdened with not alienating or embarrassing the descendants of those who perpetrated the crime. Could you imagine Braveheart being made with a directive to ensure that it doesn't paint all English people in a negative light?
Which brings me to the original Roots, and why original series star Levar Burton, (Executive Producer of the current version) and the original series producers have chosen to redo this story after 40 years.
The constraints of censorship at the time of the original Roots mini-series demanded significant compromises be made to the story.
In the first series there were no depictions of black slaves ever fighting back against the slavemasters, or of any act of physical retaliation in response to being brutalized. That sanitized portrayal was a concession. The new Roots TV series, has no such constraints, and it is dramatically apparent.
Burton also points out that in the 4 decades since the original TV series aired, and Roots author Alex Haley first researched his family history, we have significantly more research available about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which as Burton points out: “dramatically changes the story, including Kunta Kinte’s origin story.”
This is the Roots story told in a way that Burton and the original producers wish it could have been told 40 years ago.
So why the remake of Roots? Or “yet another slavery movie”?
Because the real brutal history of the European colonization of Africa and enslavement of its myriad people is still not taught as part of school curricula.
Because blacks have been in America since 1526, yet have only had full human rights enshrined in law, for just the last 51 years.
Because no former slave owning nation has ever officially apologized for the 340 year Holocaust of Africans, in which every single European power was complicit.
Because no one asks why there have been four different remakes of the Ten Commandments, or why Schindler's List was made, or The Alamo, or Braveheart, or Rob Roy.
Because when slavery was abolished, each slave owner was paid reparations by the government for loss of property (the slaves), while the 'freed' slaves got nothing.
Because when the slaves were set 'free,’ following abolition, they were forced to work for free for 4 more years for their former slavemasters, to purchase their freedom.
Because saying the original Roots is the only depiction of slavery that anyone should watch, is like saying there is only one textbook on WW2, or native genocide that is valid.
Because not a single former slave owning nation has a national monument or museum honouring the victims of slavery, and educating their citizens of their nation’s collective responsibility. By contrast, every single Allied nation from WW2 has a national Holocaust museum and memorial in their capital city, even though none of them were directly responsible for it.
Because the lack of education and context has created a bizarre psychosis where descendants of slaves and slave owners often comment that "I heard slavery wasn't that bad."
Because systemic brainwashing has led many descendants of slaves to view depictions of Africans being enslaved by Europeans as a collective source of shame. Similar to how rape victims are conditioned by society to blame themselves for being raped. By contrast, notice the importance that the Jewish people take in educating each generation of children, and the world about the holocaust and the brutality that was done to them. I never hear Jewish people decrying the plethora of movies about the Holocaust. I never hear Jewish people perceiving the Holocaust as a source of shame for them. They see it as a source of unity and inspiration. It reinforces that they are a resilient and great people.
Because similar brainwashing has many descendants of those who profited from the slave trade, viewing themselves as morally superior because some Europeans finally contributed to abolishing slavery after 3 centuries, while they abrogate any responsibility for, or relationship with the vast majority of Europeans who were complicit in the slave trade.
Because New York, Boston, Liverpool and Manchester were established as major cities purely because they served as slave trading ports.
Because the modern insurance industry started out by insuring slaves and slave expeditions.
Because I get angry every time I see an ancestry.com commercial.
Because in all of recorded history, every nation in Europe has only ever agreed unanimously on just one thing - that every human being on the entire continent of Africa existed solely for the purpose of being chattel property of white Europeans, purely because of the colour of their skin.
Because the family names, national identity, language, culture, and religion of enslaved Africans, were brutally stripped away, leaving skin colour as the only identifier, in order to more easily commoditize black slaves as products for sale.
Because we must never forget. Out of sight is out of mind.
Roots is not a black story, or a white story. It's a human story. But let's also make sure that Hollywood also depicts stories of Black people in positions of power and, highlights the many success stories (pre and post slavery) in Africa (including Hannibal, and the Mali Empire, where the world’s 1st eye surgery was performed in the 12th century, and where Plato went to study at the world's first university), and the New World (Like Benjamin Banneker, Charles Drew, and Paul Robeson).
A look at the range of movies with black leads and majority black cast being released or shot this year, indicates a significant positive change on the horizon.