Unique in television history is this six - volume chronicle of eighteenth and nineteenth century black life from African enslavement to and beyond Civil War emancipation.
The show is a triumph in most aspects - writing, production and historical fact - it is an illuminating look into a tragic side of American social history.
The show broke many boundaries in the themes and acts that were depicted and while it's certainly tame now, the fact that almost all the ocurrences here are true makes it confronting no matter which generation you witness it in. One of the low points of the show is the acting, laughable is an understatement. Even taking into account the 70's factor it's very hard to excuse some of the performances here.
Some outstaning exceptions however is Lou Gossett Jr. as the wise and diplomatic antebellum house servant Fiddler, Ben Vereen as the ebullient, post - Civil War freeman Chicken George and of course Ed Asner as the Captain of the slave ship having a struggle with his faith and conscience.
It's not only the areas of black life that are chronicled which makes this show amazing but the fact that their success in America is continuing and this show is only a launch pad for their culture with the election of the first African - American President, i like to think of it as the unofficial final chapter.
Whether you watch this show for homework, as a blast from the past, to leer at the flesh on show or if you have 540 minutes you want to kill; Roots is something to be treasured for years to come.
I was living in Lagos, Nigeria in the 1970's when "Roots" was first broadcast. It was shown at the American Embassy, but Nigerians were not admitted. I guess the diplomats were worried that the show would cause resentment among the Africans.
A year after the publication of the best-selling historical biography "Roots: The Saga of an American Family" by Alex Haley, ABC turned the people and setting of the book into a powerful 12-hour miniseries that has stood the test time for its depiction of the slave experience in the U.S.
Although many parts of Haley's somewhat controversial story about his family have been well-critiqued and discredited by historians and others over the years, the essence of the experience of the African slave trade had rarely if ever been covered outside of a smattering of insultingly silly paragraphs in history textbooks about "happy slaves living and working on the plantation" or the occassional documentaries with archival material and photo stills from the era. Previous Hollywood-style treatments were usually derogatory and/or paternalistic. In essence, the subject was taboo and too painful to tackle.
But tackled it finally was, and in a dramatic fashion that has yet to be repeated on television. And with the help of an all-star cast of many of the most popular film and television stars of the day, America was glued to the tube that week in January to see something that had never been shown before.
Having not watched "Roots" in 15 years (I had seen the original airing while in high school in 1977), I watched it again this past week to develop material for this guide. I am still amazed at its power and how it hasn't dated itself. From a critical standpoint, it was able to carefully weave historical fact in with enough fiction to produce the action, adventure, romance, and the touch of comic relief demanded by television audiences - and does so within the framework of the dramatic themes. The result was 9 Emmy awards among a number of other awards, along with some 85 million viewers.
For those who have never seen it, it is supposed to re-air on cable's TV One the 2nd week of April 2007 as part of the 30th anniversary of its original presentation. And if not seen then, it is definitely worth renting, although setting aside 12 hours might be difficult for some, but is definitely well worth it.
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