How Pop Culture Reacted to Roots

The miniseries was an unprecedented hit in 1977. But 40 years of SNL and Dave Chappelle parodies have altered its legacy.

In a recent interview with W. Kamau Bell, LeVar Burton explained what convinced him that an update of the 1977 miniseries Roots was necessary:

I got a call from executive producer Mark Wolper, the son of [original Roots executive producer] David Wolper … I asked him point-blank, “Mark, why?” He explained that he had attempted to show the original to his children, and the response was very lukewarm. They understood why Roots was important to him, but they didn’t feel it had much relevance to them. Mark thought, “Wow! Perhaps we need to remake it with a different sensibility and with a different set of actors.” I got it right away.


Wolper and Burton (who is an executive producer of the remake, airing on the History Channel this week) are not wrong. While the original 1977 miniseries remains a cultural phenomenon unlike any other before or since, it’s also true that for most modern viewers who were not yet born when Roots fever took hold, it doesn’t quite maintain the emotional punch it once had. This probably has something to do with how popular culture has responded to and parodied the series for nearly 40 years now. In this video, we consider the various television and film riffs on the miniseries, and how they impacted its legacy today.