By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Writer Alex Haley’s story of his own family lineage is used to tell the history of slavery in the Americas. The story begins in Gambia, West Africa in the mid-1700s as a young child named Kunta Kinte is born. The story follows him as he is captured by slavers, shipped over the ocean and sold to a Virginia plantation owner. From here the film follows Kunta Kinte and his family over the next few generations, ending just after the Civil War.
Near or at the top of most lists of greatest Television Miniseries of all time, Roots is an ambitious, and epic story of survival, and of the struggle for freedom.
That same freedom that we use to post cat pictures with impunity…
The cast is fantastic, LeVar Burton, John Amos, Louis Gossett Jr., Ben Vereen, Olivia Cole etc. The characters they create are all in various stages of servitude. Burton as the young Kunta Kinte is particularly powerful, as you watch the process of him coming to terms with his loss of freedom. He fights it as long as he can, but one can only take so much punishment before relenting, as the struggle for survival takes over. Ben Vereen on the other hand, the grandson of Kunta Kinte, is Chicken George, a slave who (at least briefly) feels equal to his master, and the when the cold realization of his situation hits, it is heartbreaking to watch him fall apart.
And with smaller supporting roles from the likes of Ed Asner, Chuck Connors, and Lloyd Bridges. All of these performers do fantastic jobs in capturing the moral quandaries and inherent contradictions of slavery. Ed Asner in particular is fascinating as the morally tormented slave ship captain. (A role he’s been doing versions of ever since)
Ed Asner: playing people oppressing Black People since 1977
The scope of the series is gigantic, spanning 100 years of history, and this is handled very well by the filmmakers. Any series which spans such a long period of time takes the risk of losing its audience midway through, as characters who the story has been following inevitably die, and are replaced by a new generation. Roots succeeds because its characters are so unique and distinctive that as soon as one reaches the end of their life’s journey you are more than ready to follow the next one.
It is too bad that some of the aspects of the series have begun to show their age. Watching Roots definitely makes the viewer realize how far television has come cinematically since the late 70s. Too often moments of genuine drama are punctuated by awkward segues of unnecessary comic relief and soap opera moments, 99% of which are Sandy Duncan related.
Thankfully, the strength of the source material is more than enough to overcome this issue. I will say this though, this story is ripe for being remade with an HBO Miniseries budget.
You might want to do two beers per 90 minute episode, so really, we’re talking a solid 12 pack. But still, this is a classic story, and is eminently watchable.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Kunta Kinte’s name is said
Take a Drink: when you see a cameo by any of the following: Maya Angelou, Scatman Crothers, George Hamilton, and double down for a very young Ian McShane
Drink a Shot: anytime you feel truly guilty that what you’re seeing actually happened (Crackers only).