ROOTS 2016: Slavery Saga or History Lesson

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There is a lot of talk about Roots today and will be for the rest of the week and the other episodes hit the airwaves  For those of you who are not award, please let me educate you and make you think.

Alex Haley’s Roots inspired millions of Americans (not just people of color) to look into their ancestry as a means to discover the origins of their family history.

In my own personal quest, I connected with  and remain close with a cousin who now lives in Japan, discovered some historic info about my family and learned that some of my relatives made their living as bee keepers.  All as a result of searching my own “roots”.

Historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. even had a show on NBC called “Who Do You Think You Are”, in which numerous celebrities had their ancestry researched and aired on national television.  Some results were downright stunning.

Genealogy is the origin from which Roots was born and inspired from, so it is very difficult to listen to masses of people complain about it being a story about slaves.  Slavery is definitely at the forefront of the story, but NOT the main subject.  Roots is a story about how despite the odds, Kunte Kinte, a Mandinka warrior snatched from his homeland, rose above adversity to create a positive legacy for his family.  A family that included Alex Haley.

So, on the subject of slavery, Ima need folks to calm down!!!

Do you hear people of Jewish descent complaining about a holocaust film every other year?  No. Why?  They understand that for history NOT to be repeated one needs to be aware and remember its existence.  There are actually some schools in this country that are trying to rewrite slavery in America calling it a “migration of Africans to America seeking a better life”. Really???!!!  I think not!  This is simply a bold-faced lie.  A migration would suggest Africans were NOT chained like animals on a ship, branded and sold as property.  Let there be no mistake about it…Slavery was anything BUT a migration.

I was one of the 130 million that watched Roots the when it aired on ABC all those years ago.  Back then, you couldn’t re-watch it on a DVR, live-stream or even catch it on the internet.  If you didn’t see it in real time…you simply missed out.  When I tell you,  going to school the next day was one of the most uncomfortable days in my life…is NO exaggeration.  Roots was the talk of every workplace, school and social settings, just as it is now.

The only difference now is simply the internet.  After the first episode aired last evening, the “twitterers” and internet were buzzing with opinionated reviews of Roots.  Here’s my opinion and before you get you pants in a wad…remember this is just that..an opinion.

Roots, which aired its first episode last night simultaneously on A&E, Lifetime and the History Channel pulled in 8.5 million viewers.  The original, which aired on ABC pulled in 130 million viewers.  Not only that, but Roots single-handedly birthed a new genre of television in the 70’s (Lonesome Dove, The Thornbirds, Rich Man – Poor Man).

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The new look at Roots, which begins with the abduction in Africa of Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby) and spans decades to include the American Civil War, is unfolded over four consecutive nights, with a different director helming each night, including Phillip Noyce, Mario Van Peebles, Thomas Carter and Bruce Beresford.

In an era dealing with young black men randomly being gunned down, Black Lives Matter and Donald J. Trump promising to build a wall to “keep the Mexicans/illegals” out  of American, films like Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation,  WGN America’s Underground and the reboot of Roots are more timely than ever.

Shot in various locations including South Africa and Louisiana, you heart can’t help but break when Kunta Kinte is being whipped for refusing to abandon his Mandinka name for the slave name “Toby”.  That one scene clocks in at four minutes.  Four minutes of watching  blood splatter to the ground, skin being burst like over ripe fruit, others slaves, overseers, etc… looking on yet turning away in horror and in silence.  Seeing this scene now, with so much life experience behind me than when I watched as a teenager, stirred up feelings that had been suppressed for decades.  I pray that this generation of people watch and watch intently to learn of a history that is slowly disappearing from America.  A history that should never be forgotten.

The first episode felt a little slow in some spots, but was still compelling mostly due to the performances of Malachi Kirby and Forrest Whittaker.  The producers (Mark Wolper, LeVar Burton and Will Packer) make a point in stating a disclaimer reminded viewers that there is “intense language of the time period” involved.

I trust that LeVar Burton (the original “Kunte Kinte” actor who was an unknown when shooting the 1977 miniseries) will treat the legacy Alex Haley left with the dignity, honor and respect it deserves.  Will 85% of households be watching this time? No, but this time around Roots will have a different impact.  Roots is not just about slavery, the “N-word” or pain.  It’s about the courage and survival of a group of people who are resilient.

Please watch with your family, friends and every young person you can gather.  Make sure they know now that slavery, just like the holocaust and Pearl Harbor are events that should always be remembered.  If you missed last night, no worries…each episode will re-air right before the current one

Keep your eyes peeled for Emayatzy Corinealdi and Anika Noni Rose in the future installments. These young women are forces to be reckoned with and will no doubt re recognized for their brilliance along with their co-stars Malachi Kirby and Forest Whitaker.

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Don’t be silent on this one.  Le me hear from you and what  you feel.  Let’s keep the conversation going for the next generation.  Remember I will respect and honor your opinion in the same manner in which you have allowed me to express mine.

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