One of the most interesting female-driven films of the year makes its debut Thursday night.
No, you didn’t miss the trailers before the last action flick at the movie theater, and you don’t have to worry about finding a babysitter last minute. It will actually be airing on television – and that is a worrying sign for folks who don’t take explosions into account when buying movie tickets.
“Showing Roots” is set in a small Louisiana town where segregation still has its hold. Shaken by the airing of the television miniseries “Roots,” two young women of different backgrounds – played by Uzo Aduba (“Orange Is the New Black”) and Maggie Grace (“Taken”) – forge an unlikely friendship and search for ways to bring change to both their community and to the hairstyles found there.
The film’s screenwriter, Susan Batten, has a long history of working in television. The Clayton native will mark this as her first writing credit, however, as in the past she has always been in front of the camera. An actress with a long resume, the former “One Life to Live” cast member recalls being fascinated as a young girl by the other members of her neighborhood, and how that affected her writing.
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“Growing up in a small town you realize that you are surrounded by a lot of interesting characters,” Batten explains. “As a young kid, I remember thinking, ‘Hey, why are there two ladies from the church choir fighting each other at this softball game?’ I’ve always been drawn to people who have reached their final edge, and whose lives were unraveling, and I know that started at an early age.”
One of the skills that can best benefit an actor is learning how to kill time in a productive manner. Batten began using her downtime on sets to work on what would become her screenwriting debut.
“When I would go out to Los Angeles to work on other projects, there is a lot of downtime between the moments where the camera is rolling,” Batten explains. “I started dabbling on an idea for a novel, which evolved into this movie. I wrote this movie in 2006. It went through numerous rewrites, and at first it had nothing to do with ‘Roots,’ it was just about a woman who liked giving women unusual hairstyles. I thought it needed something else in the story to keep it grounded, and I started thinking about my hometown when ‘Roots’ premiered. I remembered how people began embracing their natural heritage and going back to their roots. They were chucking these church-lady wigs, going with these African braids, and just embracing their roots.”
While the idea for “Showing Roots” came together over time, the interest that Batten received for the project from the acting community was almost immediate. With major film studios seemingly only green-lighting huge comic book-based spectacles (with casts that lean heavily toward men), many esteemed actresses signed on to the film that would soon find a home on Lifetime.
“I love Uzo’s work, so the moment she came aboard I let out a huge sigh of relief, because her role is so pivotal to the film,” says Batten. “When Maggie came in to audition, and then later wrote me a note telling me what the role would mean to her, I knew she was the right choice. There aren’t that many films being made today with female-driven stories behind them, so it really meant a lot to her. I just couldn’t be happier than with the cast we have on this film.”
In addition to Aduba and Grace, the movie also stars Elizabeth McGovern, Adam Brody and Cicely Tyson. And its debut on television should also mean more exposure.
“Lifetime wanted to put ‘Showing Roots’ together with the new ‘Roots’ remake (debuting May 30 on Lifetime and the History Channel), and we liked the idea of more people being able to actually see us on cable,” Batten says. “Independent film has really changed over the past few years, to where it’s now, your film plays in two theaters in New York and L.A., and then it just branches out to a streaming service and video-on-demand. You end up just hoping that an audience will find you. With Lifetime, it’s a built-in audience, so there’s nothing to worry about there.”
“Showing Roots” airs at 10 p.m. Thursday on Lifetime.