In addition to an all-star cast, including Forest Whitaker, Laurence Fishburne, Anika Noni Rose, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, T.I., Matthew Goode, Mekhi Phifer, and Paquin, the production spanned two continents. The slave ships scenes were filmed in Cape Town, South Africa, while seven different real Louisiana plantations were used for a number of U.S. scenes. Locations in Savannah, Georgia, served as the backdrop for Africa. Over 21,000 historically-accurate costumes were produced and stored in a New Orleans-based warehouse, with one corset slimming Paquin down to a 23-inch waist.
The production also has the benefit of 40 years of discovery, which has led to a more accurate production and understanding of Kinte’s world before he was in America. “Kunta’s origin story will have a very different flavor this time around,” Burton says.
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Taking over Kinte’s role is newcomer Malachi Kirby, an English actor with a few episodes of EastEnders and Doctor Who under his belt. The experience of tracing back one’s ancestry after watching the original miniseries was not lost on the actor, who was inspired to explore his own lineage, believing he has family from West Africa. “I want to trace those roots, literally,” he says.
While the prospect of wider fame is not lost on Kirby, the actor admits there’s no preparing for the scrutiny or stardom to follow. “Even with this role, it wasn’t really something I could prepare for,” he explains. “I’ve never been through anything like this, you know, in terms of what Kunta Kinte goes through.”