Series / Roots (1977)
aka: Roots

"Kunta Kinte, behold the only thing greater than yourself!"
Omoro Kinte

Roots was a Mini Series based on a novel about the family line of its author, Alex Haley, and their struggles coping with slavery from the time of his ancestor Kunta Kinte's enslavement to his Civil War descendants' liberation.

First broadcast in late January and early February 1977, the series was a tremendous success, prompting new public interest in genealogy and, in regard to television, established the Mini Series as a high profile prestige format for prime time.

The first Roots, the generally better received one, went only up through The American Civil War, while a 1979 Sequel, Roots: The Next Generations, picked up in 1865 and went through to Alex Haley himself, culminating in his visiting Kunte Kinte's home village in the 1970s.

1988 brought a third (fictional) entry: Roots: The Gift. This was a single two-hour side story, bringing back LeVar Burton as Kunta Kinte. As a piece of trivia, this film features a few actors who would be in Star Trek productions, just as LeVar Burton was. Avery Brooks (Captain Benjamin Sisko), Kate Mulgrew (Captain Kathryn Janeway), and Tim Russ (Lieutenant Tuvok).

LeVar Burton helped produce a remake of the first series in 2016 that apparently had new facts that had come up about Kunta Kinte's life since the first one was made (they included his growing up in a city rather than a village and that he knew several languages, including a smattering of English).

This show provides examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: The Tear Jerker variety - it's Kunta Kinte, not Toby.
  • Adult Fear: Being powerless to stop your children from being abducted, or from being raped by your superiors.
  • Agony of the Feet: Half of Kunta Kinte's foot is cut off to stop him from any more escape attempts.
  • Arc Words: "(Name), behold! The only thing greater than yourself!"; in the later episodes, the story each generation of Kunta Kinte's family tells about their family tree.
  • Artistic License History: Though the series is (rightly) praised for its unflinching depiction of the brutality of the Atlantic slave trade, its depiction of White "slave catchers" is a bit historically inaccurate. In Real Life, though the slave trade itself was facilitated by European and American traders, slavery was well-institutionalized in West African states, which were often as well-developed as their European counterparts. Most African slaves were already enslaved by other Africans, when they were sold to Europeans, most often by having been taken as captives in warfare, and sold them for profit in legal trade—not by white slavers who traveled into the interior of Africa to quietly ambush slaves one by one (indeed, Europeans who sought to forcibly and illegally capture slaves were typically dealt with mercilessly by forces of the African states well into 18th century. Not to mention there were many tropical diseases whites suffered from that made it dangerous). This involvement of Africans in others' enslavement is mentioned in the series but not directly shown (the remake corrects it).
  • All There in the Manual: There is a somewhat obscure special called: Roots: The Gift that takes place between Parts 2 and 3 of the series that explains how Kunta and Fiddler moved to John Reynolds' plantation.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Well, maybe not an intentional lie. But while the book was classified as a novel, and Alex Haley admitted that many of the events were his invention, he also claimed that he had really traced his ancestry back seven generations, to a West African man named Kunta Kinte who was kidnapped by slavers and sent into slavery in the American South. In fact, as The Other Wiki notes, the documentary evidence contradicts Haley's accounts, and the oral histories and testimony he relied on is unreliable and contradictory as well. There is little to suggest that any of Alex Haley's history before Chicken George is factual.
  • Beastly Bloodsports: The cockfight.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: Pettijohn refusing to stick his neck out again for Simon Haley and help save Ab Dekker.
  • False Friend: Missy Anne who did nothing to try to save Kizzy after her uncle sold her to another slave owner, and had the gall to feel betrayed for Kizzy helping out some abolitionists.
  • Family Drama: Extended multigenerational.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Kunta Kinte tells Belle to let him die rather than suffer as a slave. Kizzy pleads for her master to kill her instead of raping her.
  • The Man Is Keeping Us Down: And how! There are a couple of sympathetic whites, though, particularly George Johnson and his wife.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: Captain Davies of the Lord Ligonier has never hauled slaves before. He considers himself a moral Christian man, and cannot get the nagging of his conscience to leave him at peace. It seems he was merely assigned to this task, which could explain his apprehension. At first he is so torn that he can't bear to even look at the slaves. By the end of the voyage, the formerly healthy and professional captain is pale, ill, and has dark circles under his eyes because of his conscience. He is extremely disheartened to learn that this is only the first of many slave-hauling trips he will be required to make.
  • Pet the Dog: Some of the masters have a couple of moments that could count — even Tom Moore.
  • Playing Gertrude: The actress playing Kizzy was 3 years older than the guy who played her son, Chicken George (it's necessary though, since she also played a younger version of Kizzy).
  • Prison Riot: One happens in the slave ship transporting Kunta Kinte.
  • Rite of Passage: During the first episode, the adolescent boys of the village are taken out to a remote area and subjected to several rites of passage.
  • Stock Subtitle: Roots the Next Generations.
  • Timeshifted Actor: A couple, but specifically LeVar Burton and John Amos as young and old Kunta Kinte.
  • 2 + Torture = 5: "Your name is TOBY!"
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Kunta Kinte/Toby.
  • You Have Failed Me: After Kunta Kinte breaks his chains and escapes, he is quickly captured and is being prepared to be whipped as punishment. Fiddler, who was tasked by his master John Reynolds into training "Toby" to be a proper field hand, sees this and begs John Reynolds to have mercy on "Toby", appealing to John Reynolds' desire to protect his investment. John Reynolds word for word quotes this trope. Fiddler knows that not only does this mean "Toby" will be whipped (at one point, it looks like he may be whipped to death), but it means Fiddler himself will likely lose his preferential treatment and privileges.

Alternative Title(s): Roots