Thursday, June 30, 2016

TV Show Review: Roots

I had not seen the original series that aired nearly forty years ago so I was curious to check out the new series on the History Channel. It took me a while to get around to catching up on my DVR partly because the series is just so hard to watch. The acts performed in the American south during the time of slavery were inhumanely brutal and so repulsive that this story maintains relevance today. The series does a magnificent job capturing the struggles of generations of African men and women captured and sold into slavery.

The story begins amongst the tribes of Africa following Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby) as he trains to be a Mandinka Warrior along with his friend Silla Ba Dibba (Derek Luke). Due to a grudge of other tribesmen that dates back to his father Omoro Kinte (Babs Olusanmokun), Kunta is captured by the rival men and sold to white slaveowners. The period on the boat is one of the most disturbing parts of a sickening story as the men are chained down in the hull of the boat and the women are forced to entertain the men. Kunta does his best to spark and uprising aboard the ship but with weakness and confusion, he is forced to concede defeat.

On the plantation, the white slaveowners attempt to erase Kunta's African heritage but he remains strong enduring vicious punishments to maintain his name and defy the masters who insist on calling him Toby. Kunta Kinte repeatedly tries to escape but is caught and has his foot sliced in half by a sick hunter. In recovery, Kunta meets Jinna (Simona Brown) and marries her under the supervision of the Fiddler (Forest Whitaker). Times moves more rapidly as we see Kunta's daughter Kizzy (Anika Noni Rose) grows up and is sold to another awful owner Tom (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who immediately rapes her.

The story continues to the next generation where George (Regé-Jean Page), Kizzy's son is employed by his gross, racist father to fight rooster. By this point, viewers have been so inured to the terrible treatment of human beings that the cockfights barely register as violence. George fights chickens to earn his freedom under the tutelage of Mingo (Chad L. Coleman). The uprising of Nat Turner drives the white owners to further nastiness attacking any slave they deem a threat. George continues to fight to buy his freedom but also falls in love with Mathilda (Erica Tazel) and has several sons and daughters refusing to name them after his father, until his final son so that he can avoid punishment.

George is sold to an English owner after winning his freedom but then losing it in a double or nothing fight. In England, he endears himself to his British owners, wins his freedom, and returns to an American South in turmoil as the machinations of the Civil War begin to take place. George returns to his family but is forced to fight in the war for his freedom. The horrors of the life of slaves plays out but much of this part seemed rush to make room for minor storylines like the one of Nancy Holt (Anna Paquin) as a Northern spy. George fights in the Union army with Cyrus (Clifford "T.I." Harris) Finally, Tom (Sedale Threatt Jr.) finds his injured father and brings him home back to his family. 

It all ends with Alex Haley (Laurence Fishburne) recounting his ancestry and writing it all down. The great story of tradition and the horrors committed by whitge men and women is a story that needs to be continuously told as humans have an extraordinary ability to forget and whitewash history. Roots is one of the many stories that should be revisited. This edition is fitting for the great story.

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