ROOTS. (1977) HISTORICAL DRAMA MINI-SERIES BASED ON ‘ROOTS: THE SAGA OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY’ BY ALEX HALEY. STARRING LEVAR BURTON, JOHN AMOS, LESLIE UGGAMS, BEN VEREEN AND GEORG STANFORD BROWN. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. © I watched this multi-award-winning and ground-breaking mini-series over Christmas and New Year, and was blown away by its great scope and depth of feeling. As the book on which it’s based says, it’s the saga of an American family, but, as the book title doesn’t say, the family in question is black and not white. The series traces their multi-generation-spanning history from 1750, in which the head of the family is born a free man in Africa, to the aftermath of the American Civil War which freed the slaves, but didn’t exactly equip them with a blueprint for how to live after they’d been freed. The Ku Klux Klan also feature. Kunta Kinte is born in the Gambia, in West Africa, in 1750, to a tribe of proud Mandinka warriors. He has a loving mother and father and grandparents, and, when he becomes a teenager, has no more to worry about than whether or not he’ll pass his manhood trials, a rite of passage for all young men that determines whether or not they can move into their own huts as fully fledged men and take a wife. I think it’s true to say that Kunta Kinte loves his life and embraces and accepts its many challenges. Just after he finishes his all-important manhood training, he is captured by American slave traders while out alone one day, looking for some wood to make a drum for his little brother, and brought over to American to work on the rich white men’s plantations. He was stalked as if he were a wild animal and brought, chained and terrorised, to the waiting ship, The Lord Ligonier. That hellish three-month journey, in which the captured slaves were chained to bunks while in a prone position, covered in their own vomit from the constant sea-sickness, was probably the part of the series that had the most profound effect on me. I felt outraged on behalf of the free black people wrongly taken from their homes to work as slaves and harvest the white men’s crops and cotton, etc., in America. It was appalling to witness. I even felt outraged to see Ralph Waite, aka the virtuous Pa Walton of THE WALTONS, as a seasoned slave overseer on this boat, encouraging the captain, played by Ed Asner, to rape young black women to provide himself with a night-time ‘belly-warmer.’ It was truly disgusting and distressing to watch, so, for the people to whom it actually happened, well, I can’t even begin to imagine. Kunta eventually arrives in the Deep South of Northern America, and lives as a slave for the rest of his days. It takes him a long, long time to give up on his dreams of being a free man, and the cruel plantation overseer and catchers of runaway slaves have to whip him savagely and chop off part of his foot in order to ‘cure’ him of the desire to run away. He probably gives up on his dream of someday being free again when he and his wife Belle, a fellow slave, have their one child, a daughter, Kizzy. At last, Kunta has something to stay put for. He teaches his daughter about Africa and all the old ways that the cruel overseers would have them forget. Kunta and Belle love this little girl with all their hearts and souls, and one day have to endure the agonising pain of watching her be sold off to another plantation owner, one of the worst misfortunes that could befall a slave. Families were separated if it suited the owner, causing untold anguish for those sold, and those who remained behind to mourn. Owners varied from understanding enough to brutally cruel, like Missy’s new owner, Tom Moore, brilliantly played by Chuck Connors. He rapes her on her first night away from her loving parents, and fathers her child, Chicken George, whom she adores. But separation and pain await this mother and son too. Kizzy sadly doesn’t live to see her beloved son George, raised on tales of Africa and words of the Mandinka language (ko means fiddler, and kamby bolongo a river), leading his family into what amounts to their ‘promised land,’ a patch of land he acquires in Tennessee as a free man after that war to end all wars, the American Civil War. You’ll see any number of familiar faces in the show, including: Sandy Duncan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Reed, Brad Davis, Cicely Tyson, Lorne Greene, Scatman Crothers, George Hamilton, Maya Angelou, O.J. Simpson, Gary Collins, Ian McShane, Doug McClure and Louis Gossett Jr. It’s a case of spot-the-famous-face, which is always terrific fun, for me, anyway. It’s a fantastic cast with great acting, great sets and great dialogue, but the message is, hopefully, what we’ll remember the most, and that is: that no man has the right to enslave another, and we are all born- or should be born- free and equal to one another. Based on the true story of author Alex Haley’s own family, this is a saga that everyone should watch, or kids should watch and study in Irish schools. It’s on a par, is it not, to what the Nazis did to the Jews in the Holocaust…? Whole swathes and tribes of people who’d never done anyone any harm were wrenched from their families, jobs, homes and homelands and brought somewhere halfway round the world against their will to serve the misguided purpose of a stronger, so-called ‘civilised’ people who wrongly thought that might meant right. ROOTS should be watched by everyone who’s not old enough to have seen it first time around. Lest we forget…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: