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Series: Roots

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

Roots was a Mini Series presenting a dramatized account about author Alex Haley's family line and their struggles coping with slavery from ancestor Kunta Kinte's enslavement to his Civil War descendants' liberation. Based on a novel by Haley.

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 Civil War, while a 1979 Sequel, Roots: The Next Generations, picked up in 1865 and went through to Alex Haley himself, culminating in Haley 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 Burton was. Avery Brooks (Captain Benjamin Sisko), Kate Mulgrew (Captain Kathryn Janeway), and Tim Russ (Lieutenant Tuvok).


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 travelled 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). This involvement of Africans in others' enslavement is mentioned in the series but not directly shown.
  • 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 Reynolds's plantation.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Well, maybe not an intentional lie. But while the book was classified as a novel, and 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 Haley's history before Chicken George is factual.
  • Beastly Bloodsports: The cockfight.
  • Big "NO!"/Say My Name: KUNTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: Pettijohn refusing to stick his neck out again for Simon Haley and help save Ab Dekker.
  • Fair for Its Day: Sam Harvey is generally a decent man. He clearly views his slaves as property and would prefer to keep them that way. However, he treats them as people and is not mean to them. He basically treats them as employees, rather than pack animals as some of the other masters do. When the slaves are freed after the war, he wants the former slaves to stay on and work for him, except he can't afford to pay them. He offers a sharecropping system to them, which they accept. (He is a rather poor businessman, as he neglects to have anything drawn up legally. This is horrible for the sharecroppers, as he loses his farm and the former slaves are stuck owing a ton that they can't afford to pay. This is taken advantage of by some racists with a grudge against Tom, and by extension, the rest of the black sharecroppers.) As he is leaving the farm, he is referred to as "better than most of them".
  • 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.
  • Generational Saga
  • I Die Free
  • Large Ham: George "Chicken George" Moore
  • Made a Slave: Kunta Kinte.
  • Mini Series
  • 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, 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. (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.
  • Timeshifted Actor: A couple, but specifically LeVar Burton and John Amos as young and old Kunta Kinte.
  • Stock Subtitle: Roots the Next Generations.
  • 2 + Torture = 5: "Your name is TOBY!"
  • Values Dissonance: The horrors of slavery go without saying. But that aside, Chicken George gets his name and makes his way as a gamecock trainer- as in cockfighting. He winds up being so highly valued by his master, Tom Moore, that he is cheated out of his occasional chances at freedom because of it. Cockfighting is viewed as a sleazy, cruel pastime in this era and only takes place at underground illegal dives. The same thing that ruined Michael Vick's reputation is what Chicken George used to build his.
  • 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 master John Reynolds has tasked with training "Toby" to be a proper field hand, sees this and begs Reynolds to have mercy on "Toby", appealing to Reynolds' desire to protect his investment. 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.

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alternative title(s): Roots
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