Roots (1977 TV Mini-Series)

Roots had quite the impact on American culture after its release, as it showcased the really brutal side of what it felt like to be an African-American slave before the American Civil War. Alex Haley, the writer of the novel (and producer of the TV series), wanted to explore his ancestry and he recorded his findings and later published them as a novel titled “Roots.” The book was a major hit, gaining both critical praise, and winning the Pulitzer Prize. Haley’s combination of rich history and gripping storytelling caught the attention of ABC, who adapted it into a teleplay for a mini-series. A series that would get over 130 million views, one Golden Globe for Best Drama, and nine Emmys. Thirty-eight years later, a young film reviewer’s father would “ask” him to watch this series so that he might appreciate his ancestry a little more. While looking up the series on IMDb, that reviewer would notice that there was a continuation of the series in 1979, a TV movie in 1988, and a remake of the original series would be released in 2016. Figuring that he would have to see the remake, he might as well review the original series. This my friends, is that review.

Roots was created by Alex Haley and adapted by: William Blinn, M. Charles Cohen, Alex Haley, Ernest Kinoy, and James Lee. Stars: LeVar Burton, Olivia Cole, John Amos, Leslie Uggams, and Ben Vereen. Premise-Alex Haley recounts the life of one of his earliest ancestors: Kunta Kinte (and his descendants), an African boy who was taken from his home to the newly colonized United States of America to become a slave.

I might as well address this before I say anything else. This series is very brutal, disgustingly accurate, and doesn’t hold back. By that I mean that you see the violence, racism, and gritty drama that once was accepted in this country. If you are squeamish when it comes to violence, don’t like racial mistreatment, or are easily offended, then you will probably want to steer clear of this series. Even I have to admit that I found many of the episodes to be unbearably depressing and brutal, which is a testament to how well this series tells its story.

The first things I have to mention are the technical aspects. The camerawork, lighting, set design, costumes, makeup, and sound mixing are top notch. I hear that the budget was over 6 million dollars, and that greatly befitted the production, especially the cinematography, which looks beautiful. They were also able to hire pitch-perfect actors for their respective roles. There is not a single lackluster performance in this mini-series. There are even a few entertaining cameos every now and then (Charles Cyphers, O.J. Simpson, Cicely Tyson, Burl Ives, and Ian McShane to name a few).

As far as storytelling goes, it is pretty rock solid. Haley combined factual history and fictional conflicts and characters to make Roots all the more powerful. Granted, some may think a character or two is over-the-top or unrealistic, but that didn’t bother me. What did bother me was how depressing the tone could get! Seriously, even when a happy moment shows up in this series, something terrible will happen and ruin the moment. If you ask me, this happens too often to be considered realistic, or tolerable. Other than that, the only thing that bothered me was the (often) slow pacing.

I know, I don’t have that much to say about the series itself, but to state the truth, the legacy and impact of this mini-series is more interesting than the series itself! What else is there to say? Roots is a great accomplishment on many levels and receives Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.


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