A+E Networks announces new casting for its four-night, eight-hour scripted event miniseries “Roots,” from A+E Studios, including Academy Award winner® Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler, South Paw) as “Fiddler,” a slave who tries to mentor Kunta Kinte and risks his life to help him escape; Academy Award winner Anna Paquin (True Blood) as “Nancy Holt,” the wife of a Confederate officer who has her own agenda when it comes to the handling of slaves; Golden Globe® Award winning and Emmy® Award nominated actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors) as “Tom Lea,” an uneducated slave owner desperate to claw his way into the elite company of Southern gentility; Tony Award® winner Anika Noni Rose (Dream Girls, The Good Wife, The Princess and the Frog) as “Kizzy,” the cherished, smart daughter of Kunta Kinte who maintains her family pride and warrior spirit; Chad L. Coleman (The Walking Dead, The Wire) as “Mingo,” a stern no-nonsense slave who keeps the Lea plantation afloat; Erica Tazel (Justified) as “Matilda,” a preacher’s daughter and love interest to “Chicken George”; and Derek Luke (Captain America: The First Avenger, Antwone Fisher) as “Silla Ba Dibba,” the military trainer of Juffure, charged with transforming teen boys into powerful Mandinka Warriors.
After a global search to find the perfect actors to play the iconic roles of “Kunta Kinte” and “Chicken George” that spanned 15 locations (Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Congo, South Africa, Kenya, Los Angeles, London, Toronto, Vancouver, Dallas, Austin, Atlanta, New York, Paris and Ireland), newcomers Malachi Kirby and Regé-Jean Page (Survivor, Waterloo) stood out from the crowd. Both Malachi as Kunta Kinte and Regé-Jean as Chicken George showed an emotional depth and understanding of the characters that is critical to the project. Malachi was handpicked by executive producers Will Packer and LeVar Burton, who played the original Kunta Kinte.
Kunta Kinte is a Mandinka warrior who is educated, proud, strong and resilient – all traits that empower him when he is captured by slavers, while Chicken George, Kizzy’s son, is a handsome social magnet who knows how to transfix a crowd with a story, yet doesn’t appreciate what he has until his luck abandons him.
They join previously announced Laurence Fishburne (Black-ish) as Alex Haley, the author of the novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Production is underway in New Orleans and set to begin later this month in South Africa.
Multi-award winning Mario Van Peebles (We The Party, Posse, New Jack City) and two-time Oscar® nominee Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies, Breaker Morant, Bonnie & Clyde, Driving Miss Daisy,) are set to direct nights two and four respectively. They join previously announced multi-award winning Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, Salt) and Emmy Award winner Thomas Carter (Coach, Gifted Hands, The Ben Carson Story), who are directing nights one and three respectively. Grammy Award® winner Questlove is also on-board as the Executive Music Producer for the production.
“Roots” is a historical portrait of American slavery recounting the journey of one family’s will to survive, endure and ultimately carry on their legacy despite enormous hardship and inhumanity. Spanning multiple generations, the lineage begins with young Kunta Kinte, who is captured in his homeland of The Gambia and transported in brutal conditions to colonial America, where he’s sold into slavery. Throughout the series, the family continues to face adversity while bearing witness and contributing to notable events in U.S. history, including the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, slave uprisings and eventual emancipation. The story of Kunta Kinte and the women and men who came after him echoes through the history of millions of Americans of African descent, and reveals powerful truths about the universal resilience of the human spirit.