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Roots

25/07/2016

Just finished watching the final version of the television remake of “Roots” which has been screening on TVNZ. I have watched it on demand and all episodes are still available. This version is very well told. About five years ago, I picked up a copy of the book, now regarded as historical fiction, by Alex Haley. It is one of many pieces of good literature which reside on my father’s book shelf. Roots, if you are unfamiliar with it, is the story of captured West African Mandinka warrior Kunta Kinte which traces the subsequent generations of his family as they live as slaves in the American South.

The slaves are subject to the most inhuman of treatment under this evil practice and this TV version has no qualms about showing slavery in all its grisly detail.  The most harrowing scene in the first episode features a slave master trying to “break” Kunta Kinte to convince him to adopt a slave name by whipping him repeatedly.

That people could so mistreat other human beings jars the soul.

Yet, underneath these most grim of circumstances, the family of Kunta Kinte keep alive the flame of quiet human dignity. Beaten down but never cowed. Free in spirit. As Kunta Kinte counsels his daughter Kizzy “never let them put the chains on your mind”.

Each episode picks up the story a little further on in time with a subsequent generation of the family. In each generation they tell stories of “the African” Kunta Kinte and his ways. The most striking of these is a naming ceremony where each parent holds aloft their child to the night sky declaring “behold the only thing that is greater than yourself”.

There are also moments of humanity despite the hopelessness of their situation. Of particular note is Chicken George, played with aplomb by British actor Rege Jean Page, who tries to win freedom through his skills as a cock fighter for his master Tom Lea and deploys a sharp wit to get him out of difficult situations.

Highly recommended.

Here is a very good Reason review of the show which notes the significant cultural impact the original TV version of Roots had when it first screened in 1977 and proved an unexpected commercial success.

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