Levar Burton: Back to his roots

Posted by Thandie

levar burton thandie newton

Thandie and Levar

It is hard to express quite how much of an impact the TV show Roots had on my generation. We had no idea what a ‘water cooler moment’ was, or if we even had them in Britain in 1977 but this TV programme introduced us kids to serious contemplation, something akin to grown-up conversation . We only had 3 TV channels to choose from (pre-cable TV in the UK) so we were all likely to be watching the same thing, and the hot show was Roots.

I didn’t know what a ‘Zeitgeist’ was either, so if I had to use a cultural signpost  from my childhood to summarize late-seventies Britain, I would use Roots as a phenomena that deeply affected us, something that captured our imaginations, educated us enormously and gave us pride in our black heritage. Roots not only taught a whole generation of first-born brown kids about the history of slavery, but informed their white friends too.” Kay338x450x121009-004-F2902B8C.jpg.pagespeed.ic.0okLGbo9wu

As the TV mini series Roots takes hold of a new generation, we’re thrilled to have the star of the original Mr Levar Burton here on ThandieKay.

I met Levar last year, where we participated in a fundraiser for Dave Egger’s 826LA charity – promising literacy to children who are not supported by the system. Since starring in Roots, and then Star Trek, Levar has used his high profile to create opportunities for greater literacy among young people. In fact, when we met it was clear that it’s his life’s dedication.

EVERYBODY I speak to in the US knows about Reading Rainbow – Levar’s legacy to the world. So when he told me that he was Exec Producing a reboot of ‘Roots’ I was stunned he had the time. Even less to give us an interview – but here he is!

And Roots, starring Forest Whittaker, Anika Noni Rose, Anna Paquin and exciting newcomers from across the pond, launched on screens yesterday; fittingly Memorial Day. It runs for another 2 days. Watch the trailer below.

Do you remember the first time you found a girl or woman ‘beautiful’?

Wow! That question caught me off guard. I need to think about this for a moment because you’ve asked me a fairly bold question that I’m certain I’ve never been asked before in a public forum and I want to give you an honest, unfiltered response. I remember my first serious crush back in elementary school. I was in the 4th or 5th Grade and I was totally smitten with a girl in my class. I’ll call her R.C., I thought she was beautiful! At the time I was certain R.C. was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen.


levar burton roots 1977-thandiekayCan you describe why you found her ‘beautiful’?

levar burton roots 1977

Levar Burton in the 1977 Roots

Looking back, I know that I knew that she was pretty. What I mean is that I certainly found her to be attractive. Physically appealing. She had great lips, hair, eyes, legs etc. all of the physical attributes that I find myself attracted to in the feminine form. However, what made her really beautiful to me was the physical combined with how happy she always was. When I think of R. C., I am reminded of the perfection of her face when she happy, which was ALL OF THE TIME! Of course, I realize now that it was her unbridled inner sense of self, of inner well being, that fueled her outer reflection of beauty.


How important is physical beauty important to you and why?

Well, I’m a guy… And guys are for the most part driven by the visual when it comes to what we are  attracted to in a woman. Science informs me that the  male brain is wired to place a lot of emphasis on the visual/physical characteristics when evaluating a potential mate. Women are wired to respond to a complex set of criteria that are based  more on the potential for the mate to protect, defend and provide for herself and any offspring. It’s part of what is  known as the “biological imperative.”



levar burton mother thandiekay(If the answer is yes) What do you find beautiful about your mother?

Another amazing question I’ve never been asked before! One day, right around the same time R.C. was dominating my attention, a friend of mine says to me, ” Wow! You’re mom is so beautiful!” My first thought was, “Boy, what a weird thing for him to say!” You see, I had never thought of my mom as beautiful before. She had always been just… Mom. The whole idea of one of my friends thinking my mom to be beautiful was somewhat confusing to me, but it did cause me to attempt to see my mother through my friend Bill’s eyes. My mother is poised, full of grace and charm and is fiercely intelligent! I know that these are attributes that I find attractive in a woman!


Have women’s looks become more or less important in our society?

I’m not certain if they are more or less important than any other time, however I do know that we place a tremendous amount of importance on a woman’s looks in current society. I believe an over proliferation of media influences that promote an impossible standard of feminine beauty, has become a real challenge to the self esteem of an entire generation of women.


If you had a daughter who did not possess what society perceives as beauty and felt insecure about this, what would you say to her? Star Trek: The Next Generation LeVar Burton

I do have a daughter who doesn’t fit the mold of “classic American beauty!” She has beautiful mocha skin, naturally wiry hair (which she presses) and even though she has grown up seeing images of women in popular culture who look like her, she is acutely aware that the standard of beauty in this culture is still, blond hair, blue eyes and pinkish skin tones. My wife and I have done our utmost best to continually reinforce in her just how beautiful she is, despite being outside of the American beauty standard. My wife is a make-up artist by profession. So her business is beauty! She is a radiantly beautiful woman. In her presence you literally feel her vibrancy. She is the living embodiment of the idea that true beauty begins its journey outward from within, and she has instilled that value in our daughter.


If your daughter attracted unwarranted attention from men because she was perceived as beautiful, what would you say to her?

Sadly, I believe that in this society, it is an inevitability that she will at some point, experience unwanted or unwarranted attention from a man. We have raised Mica to be a strong, assertive and confident human being. She is aware that men and their decision making are at times governed by their sexual appetites. Where her sexuality is concerned, she knows that she, and no one else, is in control of her body.


Would you like to see a wider variety of women in the media (age, ethnicity physicality) or do you like it just the way it is?

I would LOVE to see a wider variety of women represented in our popular culture! There are some signs that we are beginning to understand the value of need to reflect in popular culture, the world as it exists in all of it’s diverse complexity. When Sports Illustrated released 3 separate covers this year for its annual swimsuit edition, that acknowledged the inherent beauty in disparate body types, that was a huge win for American culture.


Does the media represent women in a way that you see them? If not, how?

Well, yes and no. I believe there are aspects of media, magazines and music videos in particular that tend to over sexualize the image of women. I think movies and television have done a much better job over time of presenting a more balanced image of women in America today. Long before women fought for and won the right to vote in this country they have been engaged in an ongoing struggle to be valued as equal partners to men in this society. Although we have come a long way, there is always room for improvement.


One thought on “Levar Burton: Back to his roots

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  1. Mia

    What an awesome interview! I adore Mr. Levar Burton! He’s such a positive conscious brother:-)

    June 2, 2016 at 12:45 am

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