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Taken from http://www.martinlutherking.org/roots.html
January 16, 2002 -- ON Friday, NBC will air a special commemorating the 25th anniversary of the landmark miniseries based on Alex Haley's book "Roots." Ironically, the original series aired on ABC - but officials at that network took a pass on broadcasting the tribute.
What's truly amazing, however, is that "Roots" is receiving a reverential tribute at all. For while the miniseries was a remarkable - and important - piece of television, the book on which it was based has now been widely exposed as a historical hoax.
Unfortunately, the general public is largely unaware of how Haley's monumental family autobiography, stretching back to 18th-century Africa, has been discredited.
Indeed, a 1997 BBC documentary expose of Haley's work has been banned by U.S. television networks - especially PBS, which would normally welcome such a program.
Coincidentally, the "Roots" anniversary comes amid the growing scandal over disclosures of historian Stephen Ambrose's multiple incidents of plagiarism. Because as Haley himself was forced to acknowledge, a large section of his book - including the plot, main character and scores of whole passages - was lifted from "The African," a 1967 novel by white author Hal Courlander.
But plagiarism is the least of the problems in "Roots." And they would likely have remained largely unknown, had journalist Philip Nobile not undertaken a remarkable study of Haley's private papers shortly before they were auctioned off.
The result was featured in a devastating 1993 cover piece in the Village Voice. It confirmed - from Haley's own notes - earlier claims that the alleged history of the book was a near-total invention.
"Virtually every genealogical claim in Haley's story was false," Nobile has written. None of Haley's early writing contains any reference to his mythic ancestor, "the African" named Kunta Kinte. Indeed, Haley's later notes give his family name as "Kante," not "Kinte."
And a long-suppressed tape of the famous session in which Haley " found" Kunta Kinte through the recitation of an African "griot" proves that, as BBC producer James Kent noted, "the villagers (were) threatened by members of Haley's party. These turn out to be senior government officials desperate to ensure that things go smoothly."
Haley, added Kent, "specifically asks for a story that will fit his predetermined American narrative."
Historical experts who checked Haley's genealogical research discovered that, as one put it, "Haley got everything wrong in his pre-Civil War lineage and none of his plantation ancestors existed; 182 pages have no basis in fact."
Given this damning evidence, you'd think Haley's halo would long ago have vanished. But - given this week's TV tribute - he remains a literary icon. Publicly, at least.
The judge who presided over Haley's plagiarism case admitted that "I did not want to destroy him" and so allowed him to settle quietly - even though, he acknowledged, Haley had repeatedly perjured himself in court.
The Pulitzer Prize board has refused to reconsider Haley's prize, awarded in 1977 - in what former Columbia President William McGill, then a board member, has acknowledged was an example of "inverse racism" by a bunch of white liberals "embarrassed by our makeup."
Yet the uniqueness of "Roots" is that it was presented as factual history, albeit with fictional embellishments. Haley himself stressed that the details came from his family's oral history and had been corroborated by outside documents.
But Professor Henry Louis Gates of Harvard, a Haley friend, concedes that it's time to "speak candidly," adding that "most of us feel it's highly unlikely that Alex actually found the village from whence his ancestors came.
I only know how to summarize this series in one word...powerful. I saw it for the first time a couple of weeks ago and it literally took my breath away. The issue of slavery has always upset me quite a great deal and this movie only made me so angry that I couldn't do anything while it was happening.The series is done so well I don't even know if I can critique.All I have to say is go watch it if you haven't seen it yet.It's beyond incredible.It displays the cruelty which was deemed acceptable in those times and the struggle of the central characters.If a movie has never made you cry before,it will this time.The acting is superb and it will quickly make you forget that you're watching a product of tv execs.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I enjoyed the book so much I read it twice. It captivated, it
entertained, it made me cry, it made me proud, it was a fantastic book.
So when I saw the video in my local video store I eagerly snatched it from the shelf and ran home to watch the people I had come to feel I knew so well.
Boy was I disappointed! Perhaps if I had not read the book I would have felt different, but this mini-series was just so watered down. "Master Waller" is not even present, new characters are invented (who is Fanta?), The ship captain was turned into a sympathetic person. The violent things that happened to Kunta are greatly diminished.
To be honest, I have so far only watched the first two episodes, but I am so disappointed that I may not even finish the series. I am wondering if his foot is ever even cut in half?
I first became interested in Roots when I heard about it on the Disney Channel movie "The Color of Friendship" in 2001. The next time it resurfaced was in Jan. 2002, when Hallmark was going to reair it. Rather than wait (and waste tape) for every night, I bought it on DVD. It is amazing how the crew acheived the dream of Alex Haley's ancestors horrid past, from slave capture to auction, to escape to crippling, to being sold and death. The one thing that shocked me the most was how the KKK was involved in that family's life. When there were funny moments, I laughed and when there were sad moments, I wept. To sum it up: Roots is a masterful miniseries that no family should be without.
I grew up in the whitest small town in the upper midwest. I had one fellow
minority high grad (out of 800) who was chinese but was adopted and named
"Anne Palmquist" - that's how white it was. So I grew up without any
My mother made me watch Roots back then so I could visualize what I read about...and it had a positive impact on my little world. Of course it was merely a lesson in my parents greater plan, I'm glad it existed and was aired.
I'd like to see it again as an adult.
My fiancée and I just rented the entire Roots saga on DVD. For both of
us it's the first time we've seen it since 1977. We watched it over the
period of three days and came away from it moved and intrigued.
I was 10 years old in 1977 but I remember that even then I was hooked on the story, so much so that the following year I tackled the book (one of the best I've ever read.) As an adult, the story and the characters have had an even greater impact on me.
As was the case at the time, the acting is somewhat heavy-handed and the sets are not exactly what I'd consider to be convincing. I'm no botanist but I'd venture to guess that there weren't too many oak trees in Kunta Kinte's village in the late 1700's (or now, for that matter.)
Like any TV adaptation, liberties were taken. Most of them are of minor consequence given the scope and importance of the project as a whole (so quit your grumbling about Chicken George not knowing who is father was!) This is a film that appeals to the viewer's heart more than his/her head and in that respect it succeeds admirably.
I won't bother with a synopsis; if you're reading this most likely already seen the film and are simply looking to see what others thought of it. About all I can say is that this film--this story--moved me and has stayed with me for almost 30 years. How anyone can watch it and come away less-prejudiced is beyond my understanding.
The two things I'd like to comment on are the music and Tom (aka Jesus Christ.) Is it me or did the music seem to be inappropriately cheerful and bouncy at the worst times (i.e. the scene after Kunta's whipping, after Kizzy's rape, etc.) The next time you watch it, listen and see if you agree.
The other annoyance was that of Tom. I liked his character and I think that the actor did a credible job with what he was given but come on...Jesus Christ himself wouldn't have been so wise, patient and forgiving! Seemed a bit too good to be true.
I don't know how much of the book/film was conjecture or outright fiction but, in the end, it worked for me. It worked for me enough that I now intend on digging a bit deeper to see what I can learn about this remarkable family.
This landmark mini series brilliantly captures both the appalling
injustice of forcing Africans into bondage and the suffering of these
slaves in their unwilling homeland. It's been some years since I
watched this series or read Alex Haley's book on which it is based, but
its images have remained fresh. I can hardly imagine how intensely
moving this depiction must be for African American viewers.
The series chronicles over a 120 year period the history of Haley's own ancestors, with references made to their African origin, both the Revolutionary & Civil Wars, slave uprisings, eventual emancipation, and the despicable KKK. The story begins with an African named Kunte Kinte, who is ruthlessly kidnapped from his native Gambia on the west coast of Africa, sold into slavery, and brought by ship to Virginia where his owner forces a name change to Toby. His daughter, Kizzy, is separated from her father and mother Bell (a cook) when she is sold to another plantation. Kizzy bears a son, Chicken George, after being raped by her white master. George becomes a legendary cock fighter, and is sold to England where he eventually buys his freedom.
LeVar Burton, a favourite from Star Trek's Next Generation, is cast in the compelling role of the young Kunte Kinte. Leslie Uggams portrays Kizzy and Edward Asner the religious slave ship captain tormented by his conscience. Other famous stars include Maya Angelou, Lorne Greene, Ralph Waite, Louis Gossett Jr., Lloyd Bridges, Burl Ives, Ian McShane, and O.J. Simpson.
Whatever flaws may be present, this series surely does a great service for African Americans. Many of European ancestry can trace their heritage back to origins in Europe with little difficulty. Due to lack of records, black Americans generally are not so fortunate in being able to follow their roots back to Africa itself. Thus in Kunte Kinte, they undoubtedly were given a symbolic ancestor to inspire genuine pride in their heritage.
Kunte Kinte provides a powerful portrait of the heinous outrage of abducting peaceful Africans from their native land, transporting them far from home, and enslaving them & their descendants for generations. The images are unforgettable of the proud young African being beaten for refusing to accept his name change. The series also conveys the horrific conditions on slave ships, the degradation of being subjected to invasive scrutiny by potential buyers, the devastating heartache of forced separation from loved ones sold to other plantations, the rape of slave women by some of their white masters, the brutal punishment of runaway slaves, the daily weary work and inhumane disrespect. On a lighter note, I've also remembered all these years the unique broom jumping wedding ceremony!
Truly an educational series, I would definitely recommend it included in classrooms. My own son was shown the series in his sixth grade class. Like Schindler's List and Holocaust films, Roots should be included as required viewing for those of every race. Even apart from that, it is an absolutely engrossing story and a tribute to the hopeful power of the human spirit.
I have the complete series on tape and yet I watch it everytime it airs, Roots is a must see for everyone who is interested in history and geneology. The series really opened my eyes into a whole new perspective of the plight and the fight for the black men and women to know and win their God given freedom. To witness the love and life shared between Omoro and Binte, who's sole purpose was to raise and nurture their children was heart warming, then to watch it taken away was heart wrenching. The story eventually follows 200 yrs. of the decendants of this family who's strong will and striving finally brings them to Justice and Freedom. Do Watch!!!!!!!
...this is a GREAT mini-series... It will guaranteed take your breath away, and then send you into the bathroom, making you take a real hard look at yourself in the mirror. It's amazing, and I think it portrays the story and history of many african americans in the world. It will make you cry, laugh and rage with anger, but it's done so great, you feel like you got a gift handed over to you. 9/10 stars! See it - you won't regret!
This TV movie and mini-series is like no other has ever seen, it not
only change the way we look at our ancestors, America, it has also
change the world forever, this great TV movie featuring Kunte and the
crew and the rest is history, great performances by the cast, wonderful
story, terrific cinematography, wonderful writing and everything else,
your know the 1970's was a depressing time for America, disco,
Watergate and many others that has hurt the world deeply, this, star
wars, close encounters of the third kind brought us deeply closer
together, I Wanna thank Alex Haley and the crew for letting my watch
this great mini-series and it will be on for many generations to come.
See this TV movie like no other.
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