Alex Haley dramatizes his family roots and tells the story of one family's struggle for freedom.
Originally broadcast as a TV mini-series in 1977, Roots is the stirring story
of one family's struggle for freedom. The ghost writer of Malcolm X's autobiography,
Alex Haley, based the book by the same name on research of his own family's history.
Producer David Wolper worked closely with Haley to produce the film.
The story begins about 1750 near the Gambia River in Africa as Kunta Kente, played by
LeVar Burton, is born and grows up to be a Mandinka
warrior. Shortly after his confirmation into manhood, slave traders capture him while he is alone in the jungle.
The infamous "middle passage" is depicted in gut-wrenching horror. But manacles, stifling heat,
meager food, crowded
bunks and liberal use of the whip cannot dampen the slaves' zeal for freedom. Their
attempted revolt does not meet with the success of that some years later aboard
La Amistad, and Kunta arrives in colonial Annapolis and goes to the auction block.
The contrast between those born in slavery and Kunta, the "Guinea man", is
powerful. Kunta's fervor for freedom leads him, against the counsel of his
fellow-slaves, to attempt to escape. Every failed attempt reveals another level of
slave-holding cruelty. But that cruelty never squelches his thirst for freedom.
Every time his masters think his spirit is broken, he mends and tries to
plan better for his next attempt.
To Kunta, his African heritage and longing for freedom are inseparable.
He refuses to see his
descendents accept slavery docilely as some around him have -- those who,
in his words "don't know who they are". If he cannot be free,
perhaps his daughter can ... or the next generation after her.
As the 12 hours of the story unfold, each generation passes down to the next
that thirst for freedom. The struggles of each play out until one
generation fulfills the old dream of freedom -- emancipated by Lincoln's army.
In this irresistable story, Haley resists the urge to paint with so broad a brush that he stereotypes
the races. True to life, some of the blacks are as cruel as their white masters, and
some of the whites treat the slaves with respect and kindness. But he never stoops to the
fiction of the benevolent slaveholder. With the exception of one man who offers to
buy slaves and set them free after a specified number of years, the slaveholders
run from the callous to the vicious.
Unfortunately, Haley obviously fictionalizes the African life. History
does not corroborate the idyllic lifestyle portrayed. The fiction extends
to the slaves' religion as well. Kunta Kente and those of his tribe are portrayed as
strict Muslims. Historically, the strict Muslims of Africa have been the Arabs who have
oppressed the blacks, who until Christianity arrived were mostly Animist.
Parents and teachers should also be warned of the sexual content. It is neither
graphic not gratuitous, but the honest look at the sexual degradation of
slavery is not fit for young viewers. Coupled with the partial nudity
while in Africa and aboard the slave ship much more discretion is advised
than its "not rated" status would imply.
Roots is the story of one family's struggle for freedom, but it is more
than that. It is a story of the value, even the necessity, of freedom and the
incredible evil of slavery. For the adult viewer, it is
well worth watching.
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