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Two of the most important American television programs are "The Civil
War" by Ken Burns (1989), and the epic narrative miniseries "Roots"
(1977) based on the book "Roots: The Saga of an American Family" by
Alex Haley. Despite the controversy surrounding the book, and the facts
of Haley's ancestry (for example, the slave Toby aka "Kunte Kinte", may
never have fathered Kizzy and therefore may not be a direct ancestor of
Haley) the series is an important and ground-breaking work in its
stunning portrayal of slave life in America from the late 18th century
to the mid-19th century.
For decades, the United States has been largely in denial of its treatment of African-Americans both as slaves and later in post-Civil War periods. The south of the 19th century had fabricated the reality of slave conditions and down-played the brutality inflicted on both slaves and anti-slave sympathizers. Racial hatred and brutality continued into the 20th century, largely fueled by white traditions that have (and continue to) concoct misrepresentations of historical reality to younger generations. By the middle of the 20th century, nearly 100 years after the end of the American Civil War, President Johnson signed Civil Rights legislation into law with the White Southern community kicking and screaming all the way. If legislation couldn't change people's hearts and minds, what could?
Americans love movies, story-telling/narrative film depictions of reality. There had never before been a nationally distributed film production that honestly told the story of the African-American slave experience. Fourteen years after Johnson's legislation, "Roots" was broadcast on national television by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). I regard those network executives that green-lighted the broadcast in great esteem for their willingness to take a chance on this most-important series. I doubt whether US commercial television will ever produce and broadcast such a high-caliber and controversial program again in the near future. And to give credit to the American viewing public, "Roots" was a huge success.
From beginning to end, "Roots" is an absolute triumph of film production, the best-ever miniseries offered by a corporate network prior to the rise of cable television. The acting and the script are top-notch. Almost every notable African-American acting talent of the time was solicited to join the cast, from LeVar Burton and John Amos (Kunte Kinte, Toby) to Lou Gosset Jr (Fiddler) to Ben Vareen (Chicken George) to James Earl Jones (Alex Haley). Even OJ Simpson makes an appearance. A lot of notable white talent appears as well, such as Ed Asner and Sandy Duncan.
Slavery is a tragedy and "Roots" is a tragic story. "Roots" has its light moments, its inspiring moments, although it is its heartbreaking moments that stay with you: The moment the young African Kunte Kinte is shackled, sold as chattel and forced to board the slave ship bound for America. The whipping of the young Kunte Kinte to "break" him into slavery. The selling of Kizzy, Toby's daughter, to another slave master because of her involvement with a scheme to help a runaway. These are the moments that make Roots' larger point. Another aspect that makes Roots effective in its rhetoric is that it never seeps into sentimentality to makes its point. The story relies on an honest narrative and the audience is left to draw their on conclusions. Is it brutal? Yes. Unjust? Definitely. And that is what it was. (If you don't believe "Roots", sell yourself into slavery and see how you like it.)
Two aspects occur to me about what this story means beyond just the plain inhumanity of the institution of slavery. One aspect is that the benefit of slavery is terribly minute when compared to the staggering price paid by the slaves themselves and everyone else. Simultaneously, non-slaves were pressed into service to maintain slavery as an institution. Such titanic sadness, misery, hopelessness brutality, and inhumanity is forced upon people (both slave and non-slave) in return for a more comfortable life for a minuscule segment of the population. And yet the amount of work, effort, and money to maintain the inhumane infrastructure seems more burdensome than if these people were free. The average white southerner could not afford to own slaves, and many worked for slave owners as overseers, slave-catchers, auctioneers, and other positions designed to maintain the institution. In short, misery for thousands with a little comfort for a few.
The other tragedy is the denial of positive contribution to society. Those who were slaves were denied giving their love, their knowledge, their inspiration, and their culture to society. All this beauty sacrificed so a few white aristocrats can laze around on sofas in front of fireplaces in giant mansions. Someone once said that if we don't help foster the gifts in other people, we run the risk of never seeing how our world could be made better. Slavery is a tragedy for the people enacting it as well, although the suffering aspect is less apparent.
"Roots" is a story that needs to be told and retold. Shown and re-shown. I would encourage any teacher trying to convey the reality of slavery in America to consider showing at least a segment or two of "Roots". There is no question that the film is mesmerizing. It saddens me that there are still those in America that want to hang onto southern myths that propagate that slavery wasn't that bad. These are some of the same people that are convinced the holocaust is a fabrication. It is better to forgive than the forget. We have to embrace our roots.
In 1977 I was 10 years old, and all I remember is the majority of the city
where I live was watching Roots each day for a week. I recently bought the
video and watched it with my now 10 year old son, who is Black and I show
him the importance of getting an education because our ancestors weren't
allowed such luxuries. At his age everything is rosy just like it was when I
was 10, but hopefully he can reflect back on this movie to motivate him in
Great cast of characters-even though I didn't realize that O.J. Simpson was in it! John Amos was the best and the funniest especially when he kept losing his character's African accent and sounding more like "James" on Good Times! Overall the movie is very touching and will have you experiencing mixed emotions if you're of the Black race, and have compassion if you're of other races that haven't experienced such things. I highly recommend this film and a book called the Miseducation of the Negro as Black family heirlooms-or for anyone who wants to be enlightened concerning a portion of Black history.
Too many people still believe that Roots is the true story of Alex
Haley's ancestors. It is their story, all right, but almost entirely a
work of fiction.
Mr Haley's claims to have spent 20 years under-covering his family history were quickly found to be false. The book (even Haley admitted it was a novel, and "largely" fiction) is a work of the imagination, not history. And not even his own imagination. It was freely plagiarized - whole pages intact -from the work of Harold Courlander - who incidentally wasn't an African-American.
Roots is compelling TV, but like Frankenstein or The Shawshank Redemption, it is a work of fiction, and a mistake to read too much into it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Roots (1977) is still the best mini-series. This highly watched drama
set the bar for all of the epic television dramas. The series follows
the life of Kunta Kinte and his descendants from the coasts of West
Africa to the plantation fields of the American south. This show pulls
no punches when dealing with the sad truths about how many slaves were
shipped from their homelands and (if they survived the horrific
overseas trip) forced to work in the fields. Even though Kunta was a
slave, he never lost hope about one day his ancestors would once again
have the freedom he once had. He also vowed that his ancestors would
never forget their roots, old ways and customs.
Kunta always tried to head for freedom whenever the chance came. Even when the slave catchers cut off a piece of his foot, that never deterred him from running. But his marriage and child kept him from running when he had the opportunity. He named his only daughter Kizzy (Mandinka for staying put). Years later, Kizzy is sold to Tom Moore who uses his slaves not only for workers but for "comfort women: as well. She has a mixed child named Chicken George who like his grandfather also dreams about freedom and does whatever he can to make sure that he's a free man.
Awesome show and it still holds up well, The one thing I really got a hoot out of was seeing some of the well known liberal actors in Hollywood play some of the most despicable characters you'll ever want to see (Ralph Waite, Lloyd Bridges, Vic Morrow). The story and acting is top notched and it's definitely a heart string puller.
Highest recommendation possible.
I recently viewed all of this Mini series on the Hallmark Channel, and let me say, it was amazing! I was born 3 years after Roots was on television and never had the chance to see it growing up. I knew that Hallmark was showing it, so I made plans to see all 6 parts this week. It made me angry, it made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me happy, it made me open my eyes. The range of emotions ran the table this week. Now I know why it got all the acclaim that it rightly deserves.
One of the best mini-series to grace the small screen. Told through
span of several generations of writer Authur Haley's ancestors. The
depiction of the slave era is at times hard to watch but should be seen
by all. The stellar cast brings both young (at that time) talent and
many veteran stars of both the big and small screen. Both Levar Burton,
and John Amos bring to life the story of Mandinka tribesman Kunta Kinte
who is taken into chains from his African homeland to Colonial America
and sold into slavery.
This series does not hold back either the depiction of native African life nor the language and violence of slave life in America. If you have a younger audience you might want to talk some about the content but nothing is presented in the series that is not done to the highest standard and quality.
Roots was a good movie but was stolen from another book. To top it off,
it was stolen from a fictional book. I cant believe most people don't
know of this. I guess we can thank the media.
"Haley, Alex (1977) , Pulitzer Prize winning author of Roots. Plagiarism. He settled a lawsuit for $650,000, admitting that large passages of Roots were copied from the book The African by Harold Courlander. "http://mediamythbusters.com/index.php? title=Plagiarism#Alex_Haley_-_Roots_.281977.29
America's love affair with Roots, the most revered miniseries of all "time, allowed Haley to emerge unscathed when writer Harold Courlander sued him for plagiarism of his novel The African. (Haley paid him $650,000 in 1978.) Will Nobile's smoking gun revive the historians' case against Haley's integrity? The Pulitzer Prize committee currently is considering Nobile's brief to rescind Haley's 1977 prize. The controversy may also cast a shadow on the book version of Queen, due from Morrow this May." -Tim Appelo
Back in 1999, not too long before I became a teenager, I got to see
this 1977 mini-series on TV. I didn't catch the very beginning, but
started watching at one point during the first episode, and then
watched the rest of the episodes from start to finish as they aired
weekly. I had no clue what "Roots" was about when I started watching,
so I was in for some surprises, and it was one unforgettable
experience! I've finally watched the hit mini-series again after eight
years (all of it this time), but by this time, I had learned that it
appears it's not what I thought it was for many years!
This mini-series is an adaptation of the book of the same name, written by Alex Haley, which is supposed to be about his family history. It starts with Kunta Kinte, who is born in an African village in 1750. Sadly, as a teenager, he is kidnapped by slave traders and taken across the Atlantic Ocean to America, where he is sold into slavery and given the name Toby. From there, the story focuses on the life of Kunta as a slave on a plantation in Virginia, and then his descendants in the next several generations that follow.
Haley has received a lot of praise for tracing back his ancestry so far and writing about it, but there seems to be a lot of evidence indicating that he didn't really do it, and his story is a fraud. Obviously, he would have had to make SOME things up for the story, but apparently, he plagiarized a lot of it from a book called "The African", written by an author named Harold Courlander, which he was sued for. It has also been revealed that the story is mostly fictional. Many have pointed these things out already, and I'm just trying to put them into my own words. I'm not going to say anything else about it, but you could easily find a lot more information elsewhere.
The reason why I have given this adaptation of "Roots" a 6/10 is that despite what I've mentioned above, it's still an interesting story, with some very moving scenes! Some parts may not have been scripted as well as they could have been, but overall, it's a VERY memorable mini-series. For that, I give it an above average rating, but would give it a higher one if it weren't for the negative things I've learned about it. The fact that it was presented as a family history when it really isn't, and is still advertised as such today (like I saw on the back of the DVD set) just isn't right. It's common for films based on true stories to be very inaccurate, but "Roots" isn't even really based on a true story! So, it's not a bad mini-series, but don't watch it thinking it's what it says it is (like I once did).
I would have no problem with this movie and book if it word told as a fictional story. what disgusts me is that Alex Haley wrote this as an "Accurate tale of his family history" or his "roots." the problem is that in his "true account" Haley plagiarized from a FICTIONAL author. This author was a Caucasian who enjoyed traveling, and in his travels found a deep love for folklore. In particular he discovered an interest in African folklore, and spent several years going to villages and collecting very intriguing tales from different people in different African tribes. A very noble endeavor in the realm of fiction. But Haley's plagiarism is much worse than a petty crime, it shows the falsity of his book. I'm not talking sentences, I'm talking entire paragraphs, entire childhood accounts. If you want to watch this as fiction go ahead, but please do not watch this as a history lesson, because it's simply not.
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.
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