‘Roots’ Producer Says Whipping Scene Made Star Malachi Kirby ‘Collapse’

“He said he sort of felt like all this history was surging through him,” Mark Wolper tells TheWrap

Last Updated: May 30, 2016 @ 6:53 PM
[Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you have not seen the first episode of A&E’s “Roots.]

Night one of History’s remake of “Roots” closes with one of the most iconic scenes from the original miniseries, in which Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby in the remake, LeVar Burton in the original) is whipped for refusing to use his slave name, Toby.

TheWrap spoke with “Roots” executive producer Mark Wolper about filming the scene, which was treated with soberly by the cast and crew.

“On that particular day of shooting, LeVar Burton was on the set,” Wolper said. “He made it a point to be on the set that day because of the iconic nature of that scene. There certainly was an air of the spirits there on that scene. The set was very quiet, much more reserved than usual. During the first few test whippings, LeVar Burton actually started crying.”

“After we’d been filming the scene for a while, LeVar went over to Malchi and shortly after that, Malachi collapsed,” he continued. “He was being held up by these ropes and he said, ‘Please unhook the ropes.’ He collapsed down on the ground and had a very emotional moment. He said he sort of felt like all this history was surging through him.”

Wolper’s father David was a producer on the original “Roots,” which was based on the book of same name by Alex Haley. When asked why it is important he carry on his father’s work by telling the story again, Wolper thinks the answer is obvious.

“Learning and understanding history is an ongoing and every generation has an obligation to teach it to the next generation,” he said. “Pretty much anyone under the age of 37 hasn’t heard the story. Maybe they’ve heard of ‘Roots’ or heard of Kunta Kinte. Then you realize it’s a story we have to keep telling over and over again.”

And while comparisons between the remake and the original are inevitable, Wolper believes that the two miniseries will stand on their own.

“TV is better now than it has ever been. So to photographically be better, the wardrobe is better, the makeup is better. The directing style and pacing has been translated to the language of today. The original ‘Roots’ was absolutely the best it could be for the 1970’s. I believe our ‘Roots’ is the best it could be for 2016.”

“Roots” will air parts 2-4 for the next three nights at 9 p.m./8c on Lifetime, A&E, History and Lifetime Movie Network.