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|LeVar Burton Interviewed On NBC Today Show||Share:|
LeVar Burton Speaks About TV Mini-Series Roots And Alex Haley
On the 25th anniversary of the landmark TV mini-series Roots actor LeVar Burton, who played Kunte Kinte, talks about the Alex Haley novel on which the series was based and the traumatic experience of re-enacting the history of slavery in the U.S.
NBC Today Show, January 18, 2002
LeVar Burton On TV Mini-Series Roots And Alex Haley
Interviewed By Ann Curry
Ann Curry, anchor: Twenty-five years after it aired, the legacy of Roots endures, and tonight NBC airs a documentary marking the miniseries' silver anniversary. Tonight, LeVar Burton hosts NBC's documentary called Roots: Celebrating 25 Years.
LeVar, good morning.
Mr. LeVar Burton: Good morning, Ann.
Curry: Hard to believe, when you look back, you were a 19-year-old college sophomore...
Mr. Burton: Mm-hmm, at USC.
Curry: ...brought into this project. And when you look back and know the legacy of this program, and you being so young, what goes through you?
Mr. Burton: Well, I guess the first thing that goes through my mind is what a great gift Alex gave us, you know. I think that Roots 25 years later is as viable and vital today as it was then. And—and the gift, as I say, is that Alex really gave us, in Roots, the—the courage to have the conversation about race in America.
Curry: The courage to say, for first time, that African-American history did not begin in America.
Mr. Burton: It did not begin here on these shores. And that there was a—a deep and rich and sophisticated culture that existed long before this part of the journey.
Curry: Culture and suffering, because, for example, the scene where the slaves—you being one of them in this show—being forced into the ship's hold. Riveting, painful to watch, painful to shoot, emotionally and physically to you.
Mr. Burton: Mm-hmm. Physically very, very uncomfortable. Emotionally, absolutely debilitating, crushing. And to think that whatever discomfort we were experiencing and enduring was only an infinitesimal amount compared to that of—of those who actually made that middle passage.
Curry: Because you could feel what your own ancestors...
Mr. Burton: Oh, the spirits were in the room, Ann. The spirits—we shot those scenes in the hold of—of the ship in a warehouse outside of Savannah, Georgia, and—and the spirits were there. The ancestors were present.
Curry: Alex Haley tried to prepare you. He—you know, this scene was based on a drawing from the 1970s of how to pack as many men and women into a ship's hold. What did he say to you?
Mr. Burton: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well, the night before we started shooting those scenes in the hold of the ship, Alex brought to me a galley's copy of the novel Roots and said, you know, 'This may be of interest to you.' And I—I stayed up all night reading those sections, and—and then for the next three days, you know, lived—lived the middle passage.
Curry: Having been shepherded, really, by Alex Haley—he's not with us any longer—how would he feel, I think, about this legacy?
Mr. Burton: I think Alex would be absolutely tickled that 25 years later we can look at this as, not just a—a huge event in the history of television, but Roots in the late '70s was part of a social awakening, and was a huge cultural phenomenon. And not just in this country, all over the world. I think he'd be really pleased by that.