*Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose is not only well-known on Broadway, but also for her big screen roles in “Dreamgirls” and her 2010 performance in the movie “For Colored Girls,” which one critic described her as “especially fierce.” Here she tells EUR/Electronic Urban Report about her role on “Roots,” the upcoming miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley’s slavery saga, premiering May 30.
Anika confessed that she had some hesitation about taking on the role of Kizzy in the events series, and when she was called in to audition, she immediately said, “No, I don’t think I’m about to audition. I think I need to have a meeting because I just needed to understand what the background was and what their mindset was and why was this going to be happening. You know, what was their plan for it? Was it about respect and wanting to make something as good or something, you know, as strong? Or we were just jumping on the bandwagon. So it was very important to me to know what the mindset of the people I would be working with was,” said Anika.
She also noted the narrative importance of acknowledging the “truth and “history” of African people in America.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge that when you talk about enslaved people, you’re not talking about people who submitted with no fight, with no struggle, with no attempt to not be in that situation. I think that there is a misconception that people were — and an especially well-nurtured misconception — that people were content. That of the happy slave. Even in children’s books recently this year, there has been the picture of the happy slave without the other side of that picture and that’s dangerous.”
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Rose also weighed in on the emergence of TV shows like “Underground” and the forthcoming film “Birth of Nation,” which highlight the untold stories of black history that speaks to those viewers who she believes want to “acknowledge and know the history” of African Americans. “I think that stories that are being told right now are stories about people who were not satisfied with that life and were struggling with each other and fighting to be out of that circumstance.”
“I’m sure that enslaved people had moments with each other where they found joy and happiness because people have to be able to find moments of joy and happiness to survive. But to show one side of that and not show the other is a very, very dangerous picture. So I think that folks are happy to see a more rounded picture. And I think that folks are happy to see depictions that are being controlled by the people about whom the story is being told. There’s a lot more of that going on right now.” she explained.
Additionally, Rose applauds these emerging creatives who are taking a risk by showcasing black resistance instead of “happy slaves.”
“I think that’s what makes this exciting because the fact that (Nate Parker) was not satisfied with something that he saw on the screen. And wrote birth of a Nation as an answer, I would lay down at his feet. It’s thrilled me to no end because one thing that has been missing and in these narratives, is them being told by us. And us having our hand in the production of something in the way that the story is told.
Black resistance to white supremacy is a story that Anika says needs to be told “over and over.”
“As much as we hear about the Jewish Holocaust, we need to hear about our Holocaust. This particular American Holocaust. The second American Holocaust. I hope that this is the beginning of the telling of the story of, you know, another America. Of the America that built America. I hope that we continue to tell this story from different angles. Not only form the view of those who were enchained, but from those who never touched the chain.”
Location and props often serve as characters that help drive the plot, and Anika told us that filming on an actual plantation in New Orleans in August certainly helped her get into Kizzy’s headspace.
“It couldn’t have been more hot. It couldn’t have been less comfortable, really. I was wearing corsets that were from the time, not having been made to fit my body, but from that era. I was wearing boots that were actually vintage boots from that era. So, you know, no comfort, no softness in there. It was probably the least comfortable I could have been in clothing. And, you know, we were actually in slave cabins.”
She continued: “Sometimes we were able to get some air pumped through there. But very often, we were not and we were just in there sweltering. And, you know, that’s uncomfortable for a person in 2016. But the truth it was somebody else’s life and even that, even that, was much more uncomfortable than I imagined my character ever was.”
Rose says the best part about her “Roots” experience was, “Being able to get to know my cast mates.”
“Working with my friends, (Erica Kassel). Working with the amazing (Lewis Carter), who’s our costumer, who is just a genius. But also, I think at this point, maybe the best part of seeing people’s reactions after they’ve seen a (screening) or watching people’s mind change. Because I think a lot of people had the same mindset that I had which was why? Why are we doing this? What is the point, it’s been done?
And it becomes very clear that the point is we need to tell the story for its new eyes, which is taken very differently, which is used to watching movies and television that moves in a faster way that has different language that will reach young and new ears differently. It’s a really beautiful thing to see somebody walk in and be skeptical and walk out and be thankful that something is being done. That’s a great thing.”
The “Roots” series event airs Memorial Day at 9/8c on The History Channel.