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"Roots" Part I (1977)

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LeVar Burton debuts as Kunta Kinte

Author: kevin olzak ( from Youngstown, Ohio
15 January 2017

ROOTS wasn't the first of what became known as the miniseries, following RICH MAN, POOR MAN, but remains the most famous, the subject matter of who we are and where we come from touching a nerve with audiences of all races. It turned out to be a wise choice to schedule the episodes throughout the week, ratings increasing as word of mouth kept raising the stakes. The opening chapter begins in West Africa's Gambia region for the 1750 birth of Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton), son of Omoro (Thalmus Rasulala) and Binta (Cicely Tyson), growing into manhood with youthful impatience but greater courage than his warrior brethren. Manhood training with the Kintango (Moses Gunn) and the Wrestler (Ji-Tu Cumbuka) serves as more than an apprenticeship, as Kunta also endures his first encounter with white men and their thunder sticks. Returning a man ready to start anew with his own hut, Kunta leaves the village to perform a good deed for his little brother, in search of a log to make him a drum, unaware of the slavers lurking in wait. As fast and cunning as he is there proves to be no escape, captured along with the imposing Wrestler, and chained aboard the Lord Ligonier captained by Thomas Davies (Edward Asner). The topless nudity (done without sensationalism) and frank language, in particular Ralph Waite's course first mate, certainly opened quite a few eyes in the days when the networks normally didn't approve of such details. The African scenes were filmed in Georgia, with first time actor LeVar Burton making the strongest impression in his most famous role. Nominated for an Emmy for their performances were Burton, Cicely Tyson, Moses Gunn, and Ralph Waite, the lone winner Edward Asner.

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