Well, it appears the success of 12 Years a Slave is already having a noticeable impact: History is remaking Roots , the miniseries that remains perhaps the most iconic depiction of American slavery to ever have been filmed. Because between last year's Django Unchained and this year's 12 Years, slave stories are totally back in style, guys.
In all seriousness, though, Roots was a production of massive importance, and the more people who have access to representations of the atrocities that happened in America's history, the better. In 12 Years, we could see the inherent injustice in the economic savagery that built the South through the eyes of Solomon Northrup. Before that came the original Roots that did something similar with LeVar Burton's character Kunta Kinte.
History is planning an eight-hour miniseries reboot of Roots — down from the original's whopping 12 hours — with History EVP Dirk Hoogstra saying that they "would like to revive that cultural icon for a new audience."
Hoogstra also mentioned that “history in general is in the zeitgeist, which is great for us being a network whose name is History." True that.
Especially in the zeitgeist these days is historical works depicting the Black struggle — between Django, 12 Years, Lee Daniels' The Butler (which broke box office landmarks for black cinema), and Fruitvale Station (much more recent history, but history nonetheless), the black (particularly black male) struggle is being depicted more than usual at the moment. The History Channel's already got blockbuster historical miniseries and series like Hatfields & McCoys, Vikings, and The Bible under its belt, so it's actually about time they added one that depicts the experiences of some people of color. And now they are!
The original Roots broke a whole bunch of ratings records when it aired in 1977 — as Burton mentioned in a great interview with Vulture, "telling the story of slavery in America through the eyes of the African had never been done before. It wasn’t Gone With the Wind. It wasn’t just glossing over the human costs. Roots wasn’t just art for art’s sake. It was art as a way of moving the culture forward [...] Roots became a part of the fabric of American culture."
History no doubt has some lofty expectations for their reboot as well, although it can't exactly expect to make the same boom the original did. And slavery stories may be among the most depressing things ever to watch (it's basically that and Holocaust films), but they are also definitely gearing up as a trend right now, as 12 Years a Slave did remarkably well in the box office before it even got wide release. So buckle up for some searing indictments of America's racial politics — and let's face it, we deserve it.