Roots - A review
, 14 Jul 2010
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
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ROOTS - A REVIEW
I did write a review on this production from the perspective in which I first saw it as a young man, when it was first released as a T.V. saga way back in the 1970's.
I have now had the opportunity to watch it again 30-odd years on, as an old man in my mid sixties.
The message of course remains unchanged, and I am pleased to say that my latter viewpoint remains as outraged now as I was then at the cruelty, patronization, and complete lack of consideration for the feelings the 'owners' of these abused and enslaved people.
However, having now dealt with the evils of slavery, I must now give my frank and honest opinion of the production itself.
In the opening chapter we see Kunta Kinte being told by his father Omoro, that the time is fast approaching for him to be to be properly initiated into the great Mandinka tribe as a fearless warrior. This is to involve ghastly and untold rituals including circumcision. The scene, quite honestly brought a smile to my lips, (not the circumcision, you understand!) when really I was supposed to empathise, stern faced and tight lipped with Kuntas solemn and moving passage into manhood.
However, leaving aside the accents, I am afraid to report that the whole thing was all so American! Why, you could almost smell the blueberries and apple pie! Kunta's father bore about as much resemblance to a wise old African sage as a latter-day Scoutmaster. The acting was painfully wooden, and I'm afraid offered about as much credibility as Goldilocks!
This trend continued until Kunta Kinte, now a hostile rebellious slave re-named Toby, hits the dirt in the good ol' U.S. of A., when here at last, there is a marked improvement in character credibility, and an upturn in the acting department, which now makes the whole thing much easier to watch. Toby is auctioned and sold away to his first Massa, a decent enough slave owner as slave owners go, who soon puts the indignant Toby (AKA Kunta Kinte) to work. After a couple of attempts to escape and high tail it back to Africa, a slave master, upon capturing the runaway, chops half of poor Toby's foot clean off, which acts as a strong incentive for him to settle down, and direct his thoughts towards more passive activities, such as getting married and starting a family. Enter Belle, a female slave who works in The Big House and as such, enjoys privileges denied most of the other slaves. Belle mops the injured slaves fevered brow, and with a large helping of predictability nurses Toby back to health, and susequently jumps the broomstick with him into matrimony.
However, he never forgets that he is a Mandingo Warrior, and passes the story on to his offspring, with strict instructions to make sure that further generations pass the story down the line of their origins as members of the proud Mandinka Tribe, and their homeland in Gambia on the banks of the river Kambay Bolongo.
Eventually the plot settles down nicely, and does what it is supposed to do - entertain.
If you like lots of honey on your bread, you will be rewarded well, and you can even pop out and make a quick cuppa without losing much of the storyline.
There follows, through the line of Kunta Kinte (Toby) a rich and amusing array of characters. Kizzy, his daughter, who gets into bad company and pays a dreadful price for so doing. Then there is Chicken George, Kizzy's son, who provides the comedy, and is outraged when he discovers his paternity. These and others parade across your screen, each with their own point of view on life.
I suppose you could say that it is a 'Marmite' film - you'll love it or you'll hate it. As far as I am concerned, you can spread it on as thick as you please....warts and all!
I recall when I first saw this back in the good old 1970s, I could not but help feeling a little ashamed of the way slaves were stolen from their families, and forced to sweat in the cotton fields from dawn to dusk by the white slave owners. But this of course was, in part, its purpose. I dont know if this was ever released as a film for showing on the big screen, but if it were, you could imagine the scene as the audience exits. The black members walking tall and proud, and the whites heads bowed faces hidden with the shame of it all
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