“I’ve always felt like there’s a piece of me missing. I’m sure a lot of black people in this country have that same feeling,” says LaVar Burton. “That who I am did not just begin here. That I’m part of a lineage that goes back much further than that. To have proof in my hands is powerful.” Burton played Kunta Kinte in the iconic 1977 miniseries “Roots,” and he’s also a producer of the new version that premieres May 30 on the History Channel, in which Malachi Kirby plays Kunta.
Burton and Kirby retraced their own roots to learn the ancestral origins of their DNA, and the results were surprising (watch the video above). “75-percent of our DNA — Malachi’s and mine — shows up in Sub-Saharan Africa,” says Burton. “The part that really surprises me is how much European ancestry I have — almost one-quarter.”
Even though Kirby was born in London he doesn’t have nearly as much European ancestry — just a fraction of a percent. Instead, one-fifth of his DNA traces back to South Asia. “The percentage of that is surprising. I’d been told before that I had family in the area, but I didn’t know how much.”
Family lineage is one of the primary themes of “Roots,” which begins with Kunta Kinte’s abduction from Africa and traces his family through several generations of slavery. The original miniseries in 1977 was a ratings blockbuster and won nine Emmys, including Best Limited Series. Burton was nominated for his performance as Kunta, losing to his co-star Louis Gossett Jr. Will the new “Roots” be just as big a smash hit at the Emmys?
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