It's been 44 years since Roots premiered on ABC in 1977, and star LeVar Burton celebrated the occasion by sharing some behind-the-scenes stories from the iconic miniseries. Based on the novel by Alex Haley, Roots starred Burton in one of his very first roles as Kunta Kinte, an African teenager captured and sold as a slave in 18th century America. The performance instantly turned Burton into a star and even put him up for the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama or Comedy Series.
"#ROOTS was my first professional audition. I was a 19 year old Theater major, USC when I played Kunta Kinte," Burton says at the start of a Twitter thread remembering the series. "My first day on the set the legendary [Cicely Tyson] played my mother, Bings Kinte. [Maya Angelou] played my grandmother, Nyo Boto. I was in the big leagues, fo' sho! I was in absolute, reverential, awe of the company I found myself in. The sole reason I wasn't intimidated was the actor's certainty that I KNEW who the character was. I knew that kid. I was that kid!"
On working with O. J. Simpson, LeVar Burton recalls, "Fun Fact: In the first take of this scene with OJ, I ignored the blocking and during the chase, at the point he was supposed to catch me, I took off. He couldn't catch me! The director, David Greene, scolded me for wasting everyone's time. The Juice needed a 10 min breather."
Burton also thanks Roots author Alex Haley for "fulfilling the fullness of your destiny and sharing your family's story with all of us" in a follow-up tweet. Finally, he posts a photo of himself alongside co-star Louis Gossett Jr. from the set of the series with another message of thanks. He writes, "I owe a debt of gratitude to the inimitably majestic, @LouisGossettJr and so many more, for taking me under their wing and teaching me how to fly."
Roots was a monumental television event when it aired in 1977. The series finale set unprecedented ratings for the time and still holds the record as the second-most watched overall series finale in American television history. Roots was also met with universal acclaim, winning nine of its 37 Primetime Emmy Award nominations along with a Peabody and a Golden Globe.
Roots: The Next Generations, a sequel led by James Earl Jones, first aired in 1979, but the series didn't feature Burton. He did however reprise the role of Kunta Kinte in 1988 for the Christmas TV movie Roots: The Gift, which also brought back Louis Gossett Jr. The movie is set between the second and third episodes of the original series.
The original Roots series was also remade in 2016 with Malachi Kirby starring as the new Kunta, joining a strong ensemble cast that also featured Forest Whitaker, Laurence Fishburne, R.I., and Anna Paquin. The series was similarly met with tremendous praise as the original, sitting at a rating of a near-perfect 98% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and scoring an Emmy nomination for Best Limited Series.
Happy 44th anniversary to Roots! This news comes to us courtesy of LeVar Burton on Twitter.