Arts & Entertainment

Case Study: Roots

LeVar Burton

Lesson time 11:46 min

The miniseries Roots was a revolutionary television event that changed the conversation around chattel slavery in America. LeVar discusses the empathetic impact of the miniseries and how narrative perspective is a powerful tool for change.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: The Power of Shifting Perspectives


[EASY LISTENING MUSIC] LEVAR BURTON: When I auditioned for the role of Kunta Kinte, I knew from my very first exposure to the text that I could play this character. I felt like I knew this kid. And I really believe that my preparation was being Black in America. I could absolutely relate to the joys and the sorrow of that kid's existence. Emotionally, there were times that were really difficult. I will never forget that Alex brought me a galley's copy of "Roots" right before we started shooting the scenes that took place during the Middle Passage, the scenes in the hold of the ship. And I sort of devoured that section of the book. And we shot for three days in that set. I remember the beginning, and I remember the third day. But the middle, day two, I'm pretty hazy about. Now I interpreted that experience as being one where I checked out the personality of LeVar, was relieved momentarily by the ancestors coming in and protecting my psyche, the pain of recreating-- --that kind of experience. That kind of ordeal was such that, in the telling of the story, I required assistance from a-- I will say it-- a supernatural force. It's the only way I can explain it. Because I just don't remember. I see the footage, and I know I was there. But I have no recollection of the moments spent in this body in the pursuit of those aspects of the storytelling. Now maybe I'm grasping at straws, but it's the only way I know how to put it into context that makes sense for me. And I was very much aware of the presence of others when we were shooting various aspects of that. Another time, when I had that sense that I was not alone in the moment, was the end of hour 4, when Kunta was being whipped and trying to-- they were trying to whip him into submission to accept this new name of Toby. - - James. - - He got a name? - He is Toby. - - I want to hear you say it. Your name is Toby. You're going to learn to say your name. Let me hear you say it. What's your name? - Kunta. Kunta Kinte. - I know I wasn't alone in that moment. Because at the beginning, when I read that scene, I was very excited. I-- you know, I was young. I was 19, and I was really eager to do all of my own stunts. And I thought, okay, this is going to be a really fun and interesting scene. When it came time to shoot that scene, and I stood on top of that apple box-- the sort of crates that I was standing on-- and with my back to this man with the whip in his hand, all of a sudden, I was terrified that the tip of the whip is moving at 120 miles an hour. And his job was to wrap the whip around my body, which as it turns out, he was very proficient at. But I did not have any sort of level of trust in this man that he was as good as they said he was. So I was jumping before the lash ever got to me. And so we had to make a new plan. And they brought him back a couple of days lat...

About the Instructor

With his iconic roles in Roots and Star Trek: The Next Generation and 23 years as the host of Reading Rainbow, LeVar Burton has left an indelible mark on our culture. Now the Emmy, Grammy, and Peabody winner is sharing his approach to storytelling so you can connect authentically with any audience. Learn how to find intention, use your voice, and mine your experiences to be a more effective and dynamic storyteller.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

LeVar Burton

Emmy winner and Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton teaches you his techniques for more dynamic, authentic storytelling.

Explore the Class
Sign Up