Entertainment Lead Story Movies West Edition

Impact of ‘Roots,’ other black films explored

LOS ANGELES — Being in the television mini series “Roots” changed how actress and writer Tina Andrews looked at her African-American heritage and her career in the entertainment industry.

Andrews may be best known for the years she spent playing Valerie Grant in the long-running soap opera “Days of Our Lives,” but she also played Aurelia, Kunta Kinte’s slave girlfriend in “Roots.”

The 1977 mini series, based on Alex Haley’s 1976 book “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” had a major cultural impact on all of America.

Andrews shared her insights Aug. 25 at the L.A. Workers Center at an event marking the 400th anniversary of the start of slavery that examined historical African-American films, including “Roots.”

“The major impact that it had on my life was in the kind of work that I wanted to do,” Andrews said. “I no longer wanted to be involved with silly insipid black comedies. We felt it on the set how important this work was and how you can make people feel something visceral when you do it right and that’s what all of us wanted to do.”

Andrews noted that the one scene in “Roots” that affected her most was the beating of Kunta Kinte. The famous scene is known to create strong emotions, which Andrews felt as she discussed the importance of the scene.

While getting choked up, she said “[This scene is] where all of us became our ancestors. We became those characters. Everything that’s registered on our faces was real.”

“Roots” was remade in 2016 and aired on the History Channel on Memorial Day of that year. However, Andrews did not want to comment on that version.

Almost 23 years after the premiere of “Roots,” Andrews’ screenplay “Sally Hemings: An American Scandal” hit the television screens in 2000. The film, starring Carmen Ejogo as Sally Hemings and Sam Niel as Thomas Jefferson, reenacted the complicated lives of the couple as Jefferson and Hemings bore biracial children.

Film critic, author and co-founder of Cause Celeb Ed Rampell, who put the event together said he prepared for it by watching “Sally Hemings” again.

“It made me weep,” Rampell said. “The way that Sally and Thomas would debate racism and slavery was very touching.”

He said he planned the event to bring more awareness about slavery and other black issues.

“The idea is to take historical anniversaries and create events around them to bring awareness,” Rampell said. “And to remind people because memory may be the single thing that makes us human more than anything else.”

The event began with a showing of “Jamestown,” a British production that aired on PBS in 2017. It was followed by a discussion of history with Sharon Kyle, the keynote speaker for the event and co-publisher of the LA Progressive.

“Although we say we’ve been free since 1863, it ain’t so,” Kyle said while discussing how the enslavement of black people has taken on different forms since the arrival of the first Africans in America in the 17th century.

After scenes and a discussion about “Sally Hemings: An American Scandal,” Rampell showed Nate Parker’s 2016 “The Birth of a Nation,” Edwin S. Porter’s 1903 “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the 1955 “Seven Angry Men” with an introduction from Melina Abdullah, department chair for Pan-African Studies at Cal State Los Angeles and scenes from the 1979 “Freedom Road” which starred Muhammad Ali.

The event ended with a Q&A session with actor and journalist Erik Washington, who starred as the son of Ali’s character in “Freedom Road.”