Written by | Ray Cornelius
Filmmaker Will Packer teamed up with Grammy winning-hip hop star Tip “T.I.” Harris Monday night for an special advanced screening of “ROOTS.” Packer serves as one of the project’s executive producers and Harris will star in the drama which will simulcast over three networks—-History, A&E and Lifetime—-Memorial Day Weekend. The event was held at Atlanta’s new National Center for Civil and Human Rights and featured a pre-screening reception followed by a post-screening discussion hosted by media personality Jeff Johnson.
‘ROOTS’ is an adaptation of Alex Haley’s 1976 book of the same name which chronicles his family lineage from Africa to America. The 1977 version was a groundbreaking television event for its time and still stands as the second most watched overall series finale in U.S. television history. It also featured a who’s who list of Hollywood actors and personalities and made a star out of LeVar Burton who portrayed Haley’s ancestor Kunta Kente. For Packer, executive producing “ROOTS” was not an easy decision for him to make. The project is unlike anything he’s produced before. However, after going back and watching the original series, he realized that this was a lot bigger than just remaking history. This was an opportunity to affect the culture and change the paradigm of people’s thinking the way the original “ROOTS” did almost 40-years-ago.
Will Packer explaining why he decided to executive produce ‘ROOTS’
“This is the most important thing I’ve ever done,” said Packer to the audience of influencers and tastemakers. “I’m so proud of this. This was not an easy decision to make or to be apart of this but I will also tell you this. For as many people in this room that have watched it and have taken this journey with us tonight, there’s so many people out there that are not going to give it a chance.”
Packer went on to encourage the audience to help spread the word about the series and to tell people to watch it even if they think they already “know” the story.
“They said, ‘you have to make a slave!’ There are still people out there trying to make slaves,” said Packer who referenced Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump. “If you don’t know from whence you came then you will look back at this and say, ‘I don’t want to see it. I know it.’ Then you’ll be just like the others on Snapchat and Instagram that are following somebody that don’t know their history either. So to me, this is the most import thing I’ve ever done.”
Tip “T.I.” Harris will portray ‘Cyrus’ in ‘ROOTS’
Harris, who will be appearing in the fourth episode as ‘Cyrus,’ told the audience last night that this role is the most definitive one of his acting career. He confessed that he too was very apprehensive about participating.
“I had never been involved in a piece that was so important to where my performance would hang over my head for so long. I was like, ‘I don’t know about this one Will. This is tall order,’” said the rapper who has appeared in such movies as “ATL” and ‘Takers.”
Harris went on to talk about his experience of filming on real Louisiana plantations last summer and how he hopes this reboot will entice “Millennials” to go out research their history for themselves.
“First of all, we want to empower you with the truth. Secondly, We want to encourage you to do your own research outside of the institutions that you go to. Education doesn’t stop when you leave school. After you see it, you go and find out more. It’s the information age…you Millennials have the most information available to you at the push of a button and at the click of your phone. The same phone you can use to entertain yourself with can also be used for information. It’s something you just have to want to go out and find.”
Ambassador Andrew Young talking about ‘ROOTS’ influence on his career
Ambassador Andrew Young was one of many VIPs attending the screening last night. He also shared with the audience how “ROOTS” was influential in helping him become a United States Ambassador to the United Nations and reestablish relationships between America and African nations.
“As this was playing Jimmy Carter asked me to be an ambassador to the United Nations. He gave me a note saying I want you to go to Africa and ask African leaders what they expect of this administration and how we can help them. Now that’s amazing. In January of 1977, that’s what I did and I talked to 22 African presidents. Out of that came the strategy to deal with Zimbabwe from Africans and they said that this will force the South Africans to get to know us and it will be easier for us to get (as they said) ‘Nelson and the boys’ out of jail in South Africa. So there is a sense that ‘Roots’ helped galvanize this nation to the point where we had the best African policy.” Ambassador Young also called out our current prison systems as the new “Jim Crow” and “modern day slavey.”
Other notables in attendance last night included Derreck Kayongo, CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights; RHOA star Phaedra Parks; HGTV’s Egypt Sherrod and her husband DJ Fadelf; “Dish Nation” personality Gary with da Tea; Morehouse College President Dr. John Silvanus Wilson; Dr. Sam Livingston of Morehouse College; Tamarre Torchan, President of Atlanta Chapter of the National Action Network; Dr. Yamma Brown and Deanna Brown, daughters of the late James Brown. Hip-hop icon Ed Lover and V-103 radio personality Ryan Cameron were also in attendance and participated in the post film panel discussion.
Check out a few more pictures below and click here to watch the trailer for “ROOTS” which airs this Memorial Day Holiday:
Ambassador Andrew Young and Phaedra Parks
Dr. Yamma and Deanna Brown
Egypt Sherrod and DJ Fadelf
T.I. and Ambassador Andrew Young
Photo Credits: Paras Griffin for Getty for History