Roots (TV miniseries)
25th Anniversary DVD cover, 2001
|Directed by||Marvin J. Chomsky
|Produced by||Stan Margulies|
|Written by||Alex Haley|
|Screenplay by||Alex Haley
Louis Gossett, Jr.
|Music by||Gerald Fried
Quincy Jones (episode 1)
|Cinematography||Stevan Larner, ASC|
|Budget||US $6.6 million|
|Original run||January 23, 1977 – January 30, 1977|
|Running time||570 minutes|
|No. of episodes||8 (re-edited to 6 for video)|
|Followed by||Roots: The Next Generations|
Roots is a television miniseries in the USA based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel, entitled Roots: The Saga of an American Family; the series first aired, on ABC-TV, in 1977. Roots received 37 Emmy Award nominations and won nine. It won also a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award. It received unprecedented Nielsen ratings for the finale, which still holds a record as the third-highest-rated US television program. It was produced on a budget of $6.6 million.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Legal issues
- 5 Broadcast history
- 6 DVD release
- 7 Awards and nominations
- 8 Historical accuracy
- 9 Remake
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
In The Gambia, West Africa, in 1750 Kunta Kinte is born to Omoro Kinte (Thalmus Rasulala), a Mandinka warrior, and his wife, Binta (Cicely Tyson). When Kunta (LeVar Burton) reaches the age of 15, he and a group of other adolescent boys take part in tribal manhood training, ending with a ceremony, after which they become recognized as men and Mandinka warriors. While trying to carry out a task to catch a bird and take it home unharmed, Kunta sees white men carrying firearms, along with their black collaborators. Later, while fetching wood outside his village to make a drum for his younger brother, Kunta is captured by black collaborators under the direction of white men. He is then sold to a slave trader and placed aboard a ship under the command of Capt. Thomas Davies (Edward Asner) for a three-month journey to Colonial America. During the voyage a group of rebels among the human cargo try but fail to stage a mutiny and to take over the ship.
The ship eventually arrives in Annapolis, Maryland, where the captured Africans are sold at auction as slaves. John Reynolds (Lorne Greene), a plantation owner from Spotsylvania County, Virginia, near Fredericksburg, buys Kunta and gives him the name Toby. Reynolds assigns an older slave, Fiddler (Louis Gossett Jr.), to teach Kunta to speak English and to train him in the ways of living and working as a chattel slave. Kunta, in a persistent struggle to become free again, makes several unsuccessful attempts to escape. Additionally, to preserve his Mandinka heritage and maintain his Mandinka roots, he does not want to change his name. An overseer, Ames (Vic Morrow) gathers the slaves and directs one of them to whip Kunta after his latest attempt to escape and to continue whipping him until he finally acknowledges his new name.
For events that occur in 1775, between the above period and the post-Revolutionary War, where the next section begins, see Roots: The Gift
Late 18th Century
The adult Kunta Kinte (John Amos) experiences serving as a chattel slave and feels haunted by his Mandinka roots and his memories of freedom at home in Africa. John Reynolds, his owner, does not receive as much cash as he has expected from the sale of his crop of tobacco, so, to settle a debt to his brother, Dr. William Reynolds (Robert Reed), the local physician, transfers several of his slaves, including Toby and Fiddler, to William. Kunta tries again to escape, but a pair of slave-catchers seize him, bind him, and chop off about half his right foot (to limit his ability to run away again). Kunta meets Belle (Madge Sinclair), the cook for William's family. Belle successfully treats both Kunta's mangled foot and his wounded spirit. He eventually submits to the harsh life, and he marries Belle in a ceremony, which includes jumping across a broom. Belle bears a daughter, to whom Kunta gives the name Kizzy, which means "stay put" in the Mandinka language. Fiddler continues to mentor and befriend Kunta, and Fiddler eventually dies at an old age.
Turn of the 19th Century
An adulterous relationship between Dr. William Reynolds and John Reynolds's wife (Lynda Day George) produces a daughter, Anne, whom John apparently believes to be his own offspring. Missy Anne (Sandy Duncan) and Kizzy (Leslie Uggams), about two years younger than Anne, become playmates and best friends within the social limits of the plantation culture. Anne secretly teaches Kizzy to read and write, and both Anne and Belle, Kizzy's mother, strictly and severely caution Kizzy to avoid allowing anyone else to learn about her clandestine and forbidden education. Kizzy, in her teen years, falls in love with Noah (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), another slave at William's plantation, but Noah runs away and is caught and returned. During a beating Noah reveals that Kizzy has forged for him a traveling pass by copying a similar pass which Anne has given to Kizzy. William has previously assured his slaves that he would keep them all together at his plantation, not selling away any of them against their will as long as they "follow the rules". However, William regards the pass and the escape to be such serious breaches of trust that he separately sells both Noah and Kizzy. Much weeping and wailing attend the departure of Kizzy.
Early 19th Century
Some years later Sam Bennett (Richard Roundtree), a fancy carriage driver and a suitor who seeks to impress, takes Kizzy for a short visit to the plantation of Dr. William Reynolds, in the hope that she can see her parents. Kizzy learns that Belle has been sold away, and that Toby has died. Kizzy sees her father's grave and his wooden marker; using a small stone, she scratches over the name Toby and writes below it "Kunta Kinte".
George (Ben Vereen), under the tutelage of Mingo (Scatman Crothers), an older slave, learns much about cockfighting, and, by direction of Tom Moore, their master, George takes over as the chief trainer, the "cock of the walk".
The adult George becomes an expert in cockfighting, thus earning for himself the moniker "Chicken George". Squire James (Macdonald Carey), Moore's main adversary in the pit, arranges for a British owner, Sir Eric Russell (Ian McShane), and 20 of his cocks to visit and to participate in the local fights. Moore eventually bets a huge sum on his best bird, which George has trained, but he loses, and he cannot pay. James's trainer gains his freedom, because he has saved enough money (from his share of the winnings of James's birds) to pay off his master. That freedom sets George to thinking. In an emotional scene Kizzy reveals to George the identity of his father.
In 1847, under the terms of a settlement between Moore and Russell, George goes to England to train cocks for Russell and to train more trainers. Moore promises to set George free after George returns. George leaves behind Kizzy (his mother), Tildy (Mathilda, his wife) (Olivia Cole), and Tom and Lewis (his sons) (Georg Stanford Brown and Hilly Hicks).
In one brief scene Kizzy and Anne Reynolds, both elderly, face each other one last time, and Missy Anne denies that she "recollects" a "darkie by the name of Kizzy". Kizzy then spits into Anne's cup of water without Anne's realizing.
The Civil War
George returns 14 years later, in 1861, shortly before the start of the Civil War. He proudly announces that Moore, after some reluctance on Moore's part and some persuasion on George's part, has kept his word by granting George his freedom. He learns that Kizzy has died two months previously, that Tom and Lewis now belong to Sam Harvey (Richard McKenzie), that Tom (Georg Stanford Brown) has become a blacksmith on the Harvey plantation, and that Tom has a wife, Irene (Lynne Moody), and two sons. He learns also that his relatives have spoken well of him during his absence. He learns further that, according to a law in North Carolina, if he stays 60 days in that state as a freed slave, he will lose his freedom, so he heads northward, seeking the next stage in his career as a cockfighter and awaiting the end of the war, the emancipation of the slaves, and another reunion of his family.
While the war continues to its inevitable end, a hungry and destitute young white couple from South Carolina, George and Martha Johnson (Brad Davis and Lane Binkley), arrive and ask for help, and the slave family take them in. Martha soon gives birth, but the child is stillborn.
Tom Harvey, one of George's sons, meets harassment at the hands of two brothers, Evan and Jemmy Brent (Lloyd Bridges and Doug McClure). Eventually, a month before the surrender by the South, Jemmy deserts the Confederate Army during the final desperate days of the war, and he shows up at Tom's blacksmith shop. Tom reluctantly runs an errand for Jemmy. When he returns, he arrives while Jemmy tries to overpower Irene so that he can rape her. During the resulting fight, Tom drowns Jemmy in the quenching tub. Later Evan, then an officer in the Confederate cavalry, arrives at the shop, demands to know about Jemmy, gets no answer, and angrily tells Tom that he has not yet finished with him.
After the war several local white men, led by Evan Brent and wearing white hoods (made from fabric sacks from Evan's store) begin to harass and terrorize Tom, his family, and other blacks. Tom emerges as the leader among his group. Tom, the local blacksmith, devises a method to identify the horses involved in the raids by the hooded men against the black community, and Tom reports his activity to the sheriff. However, the sheriff, in sympathy with Evan and knowing every member of the white mob, tips off Evan, who leads another raid against Tom.
Several years later, Chicken George unexpectedly returns, raises the spirits of his relatives and friends, and begins to plot their next step. He reports that he has bought some land in Tennessee. Using some cunning and deception of their own, the group makes preparations for their move away.
After one final confrontation with Evan and his gang, George and his company start their trek from North Carolina to Tennessee.
In the last scene George and his group arrive on his land in Henning, Lauderdale County, Tennessee, to start their new life. George retells part of the story from Kunta Kinte in Africa to himself in Tennessee.
Then Alex Haley briefly narrates a montage of photographs of family members connecting Tom's daughter, Cynthia, a great-great-granddaughter of Kunta Kinte, to Haley himself.
Number in parentheses indicates how many episodes in which the actor/character appears.
- LeVar Burton – young Kunta Kinte (2)
- Olivia Cole – Mathilda (3)
- Louis Gossett, Jr. – Fiddler (2)
- Ben Vereen – Chicken George Moore (3)
- Vic Morrow – Ames (4)
- John Amos – older Kunta Kinte/"Toby" (2)
- Ji-Tu Cumbuka – Wrestler (3)
- Edward Asner – Capt. Davies (3)
- Lynda Day George – Mrs. Reynolds (3)
- Robert Reed – Dr. William Reynolds (3)
- Madge Sinclair – Bell Reynolds (3)
- Chuck Connors – Tom Moore (3)
- Sandy Duncan – Missy Anne Reynolds (3)
- Leslie Uggams – Kizzy Reynolds (2)
- Carolyn Jones – Mrs. Moore (3)
- Lloyd Bridges – Evan Brent (3)
- Georg Stanford Brown – Tom Harvey (2)
- Brad Davis – Ol' George Johnson (3)
- Lane Binkley – Martha Johnson (3)
- Tracey Gold – Young Missy Reynolds (3)
- Hilly Hicks – Lewis (3)
- Lynne Moody – Irene Harvey (2)
- Austin Stoker – Virgil (3)
- Ralph Waite – Third mate Slater (3)
- Cicely Tyson – Binta (2)
- Thalmus Rasulala – Omoro (2)
- Moses Gunn – Kintango (2)
- Hari Rhodes – Brima Cesay (2)
- Ren Woods – Fanta (2)
- Ernest Lee Thomas – Kailuba (2)
- Lorne Greene – John Reynolds (2)
- Scatman Crothers – Mingo (2)
- George Hamilton – Stephen Bennett (2)
- Lillian Randolph – Sister Sara (2)
- Roxie Roker – Malizy (1)
- Richard Roundtree – Sam Bennett (2)
- Thayer David – Harlan (2)
- John Quade – Sheriff Biggs (2)
- Maya Angelou – Nyo Boto (1)
- O. J. Simpson – Kadi Touray (1)
- Beverly Todd – Fanta as an adult (1)
- Paul Shenar – John Carrington (1)
- Gary Collins – Grill (1)
- Raymond St. Jacques – The drummer (1)
- Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs – Noah (1)
- John Schuck – Ordell (1)
- Macdonald Carey – Squire James (1)
- Ian McShane – Sir Eric Russell (1)
- Doug McClure – Jemmy Brent (1)
- Burl Ives – Sen. Arthur Justin (1)
- Charles Cyphers – Drake (1)
- Brion James - Slaver (1)
- Todd Bridges – Bud (1)
- Ross Chapman – Sergeant Williams (1)
- Grand L. Bush – Captured runaway slave (1)
- Yvonne De Carlo – Slave owner's wife (1)
- Boris Johnson - Lewis Bell
The miniseries was directed by Marvin J. Chomsky, John Erman, David Greene, and Gilbert Moses. It was produced by Stan Margulies. David L. Wolper was executive producer. The score was composed by Gerald Fried, and Quincy Jones for only the first episode.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications recounts the apprehensions that Roots would flop, and how this made ABC prepare the format:
|“||Familiar television actors like American (sic) actor Lorne Greene were chosen for the white, secondary roles, to reassure audiences. The white actors were featured disproportionately in network previews. For the first episode, the writers created a conscience-stricken slave captain (Edward Asner), a figure who did not appear in Haley's novel but was intended to make white audiences feel better about their historical role in the slave trade. Even the show's consecutive-night format allegedly resulted from network apprehensions. ABC programming chief Fred Silverman hoped that the unusual schedule would cut his network's imminent losses—and get Roots off the air before sweeps week.||”|
Following the success of the original novel and the miniseries, Haley was sued by author Harold Courlander, who asserted that Roots was plagiarized from his own novel The African, published nine years prior to Roots in 1967. The resulting trial ended with an out-of-court settlement and an admission from Haley that certain passages within Roots had been copied from Courlander's work. Separately, researchers refuted Haley's claims that, as the basis for Roots, Haley had traced his own ancestry back through slavery to a very specific individual and village in Africa. After a five-week trial in federal district court, Courlander and Haley settled the case with a financial settlement and a statement that "Alex Haley acknowledges and regrets that various materials from The African by Harold Courlander found their way into his book, Roots." During the trial, presiding U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Ward stated, "Copying there is, period." In a later interview with BBC Television, Judge Ward stated, "Alex Haley perpetrated a hoax on the public." During the trial, Alex Haley had maintained that he had not read The African before writing Roots. Shortly after the trial, however, a minority studies teacher at Skidmore College, Joseph Bruchac, came forward and swore in an affidavit that he had discussed The African with Haley in 1970 or 1971 and had given his own personal copy of The African to Haley, events that took place a good number of years prior to the publication of Roots.
|Original run #||Re-edited version #||Approximate time period||Featured Kinte descendant(s)|
|Kunta Kinte||Kizzy||Chicken George||Tom Harvey|
|Part I (90m)||1750 – 1767||Yes|
|Part II (90m)||1767 – 1768||Yes|
|Part III (45m)||Part III (90m)||1776||Yes|
|Part IV (45m)||1780 – 1790||Yes||Yes|
|Part V (45m)||Part IV (90m)||1806||Yes||Yes|
|Part VI (90m)||1824||Yes||Yes|
|Part V (90m)||1841 – 1847||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Part VII (45m)||1861 – 1865||Yes||Yes|
|Part VIII (90m)||Part VI (90m)||1865 – 1870||Yes||Yes|
Ratings and viewers
The miniseries was watched by an estimated 130 and 140 million viewers total and averaged a 44.9 rating 66% share of the audience. The final episode was watched by 100 million viewers and an average of 80 million viewers watched each of the last seven episodes. Eighty-five percent of all television homes saw all or part of the mini-series.
|Roots Part I||#82||28.84 million||40.5%||61%||January 23, 1977||ABC|
|Roots Part II||#32||31.40 million||44.1%||62%||January 24, 1977||ABC|
|Roots Part III||#27||31.90 million||44.8%||68%||January 25, 1977||ABC|
|Roots Part IV||#35||31.19 million||43.8%||66%||January 26, 1977||ABC|
|Roots Part V||#21||32.54 million||45.7%||71%||January 27, 1977||ABC|
|Roots Part VI||#18||32.68 million||45.9%||66%||January 28, 1977||ABC|
|Roots Part VII||#50||30.12 million||42.3%||65%||January 29, 1977||ABC|
|Roots Part VIII||#3||36.38 million||51.1%||71%||January 30, 1977||ABC|
On February 16, 17, and 18 of 2013, in honor of Black History Month and the 36th anniversary of Roots, cable network BET showed both Roots and Roots: The Next Generations. Celebrating the 35th anniversary of Roots, BET premiered the miniseries on a 3-day weekend showing in December 2012, which resulted in being seen by a total of 10.8 million viewers according to Nielsen ratings, and also became the #1 Roots telecast in cable television history. As for the BET network, it's 35th anniversary showing of Roots became it's best 'non-tentpole' weekend in the network's history.
Warner Home Video, which released a 25th-anniversary 3-disc DVD edition of the series in 2002, released a four-disc (three double-sided, one single-sided) 30th-anniversary set on May 22, 2007. Bonus features include a new audio commentary by LeVar Burton, Cicely Tyson and Ed Asner among other key cast members, "Remembering Roots" behind-the-scenes documentary, "Crossing Over: How Roots Captivated an Entire Nation" featurette, new interviews with key cast members and the DVD-ROM "Roots Family Tree" feature.
Awards and nominations
- Best Director in a Drama Series – David Greene for "Part I"
- Best Actor in a Drama or Comedy Series, Single Appearance – Louis Gossett, Jr.
- Best Editing in a Drama Series – Neil Travis for "Part I"
- Best Limited Series
- Best Music Composition for a Series – Dramatic Underscore – Gerald Fried and Quincy Jones for "Part I"
- Best Sound Editing in a Series
- Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Series, Single Appearance – Edward Asner for "Part I"
- Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama Series, Single Appearance – Olivia Cole for "Part VIII"
- Best Writing in a Drama Series – Ernest Kinoy and William Blinn for "Part II"
- Best TV Series – Drama
- Best Actor in a Drama or Comedy Series, Single Appearance – LeVar Burton for "Part I"
- Best Actor in a Drama or Comedy Series, Single Appearance – John Amos for "Part V"
- Best Actor in a Drama or Comedy Series, Single Appearance – Ben Vereen for "Part VI"
- Best Actress in a Drama or Comedy Series, Single Appearance – Madge Sinclair for "Part IV"
- Best Actress in a Drama or Comedy Series, Single Appearance – Leslie Uggams for "Part VI"
- Best Art Direction or Scenic Design in a Drama Series ("Part II")
- Best Art Direction or Scenic Design in a Drama Series ("Part VI")
- Best Costume Design in a Drama or Comedy Series – Jack Martell for "Part I"
- Best Cinematography in Entertainment Programming in a Series – Stevan Larner for "Part II"
- Best Cinematography in Entertainment Programming in a Series – Joseph M. Wilcots for "Part VII"
- Best Director in a Drama Series – John Erman for "Part II"
- Best Director in a Drama Series – Marvin J. Chomsky for "Part III"
- Best Director in a Drama Series – Gilbert Moses for "Part VI"
- Best Editing in a Drama Series – James T. Heckert and Neil Travis for "Part II"
- Best Editing in a Drama Series – (Peter Kirby for "Part III"
- Best Editing in a Drama Series – James T. Heckert for "Part VIII"
- Best Music Composition for a Series in a Dramatic Underscore – Gerald Fried for "Part VIII"
- Best Sound Mixing ("Part I")
- Best Sound Mixing ("Part IV")
- Best Sound Mixing ("Part VII")
- Best Sound Mixing ("Part VIII")
- Best Supporting Actor in a Drama or Comedy Series, Single Performance – Moses Gunn for "Part I"
- Best Supporting Actor in a Drama or Comedy Series – Ralph Waite for "Part I"
- Best Supporting Actor in a Drama or Comedy Series – Robert Reed for "Part V"
- Best Supporting Actress in a Drama or Comedy Series – Cicely Tyson for "Part I"
- Best Supporting Actress in a Drama or Comedy Series – Sandy Duncan for "Part V"
- Best Writing in a Drama Series – M. Charles Cohen for "Part VIII"
- Best Writing in a Drama Series – James Lee for "Part V"
- Best TV Actress in a Drama – Leslie Uggams
Author and historian Steven Mintz has written: "Many Americans, influenced by images in the 1977 television mini-series Roots, mistakenly believe that most slaves were captured by Europeans who landed on the African coast and captured or ambushed people. While Europeans did engage in some slave raiding, the majority of people who were transported to the Americas were enslaved by other Africans." Through a series of conflicts, primarily with the Fulani jihad states, about half of the Senegambian Mandinka were converted to Islam while as many as a third were sold into slavery to the Americas through capture in conflict. Other inaccuracies, improbabilities, omissions, or exaggerations in the miniseries may include making slaves change names, a plantation owner offering a stranger the use of the slave quarters as a brothel, use of a bull-whip to chastise slaves rather than the much more common smaller whips used, and underplaying references to the concern that some slaveholders may had for the physical and medical well-being of their valuable property. The miniseries refutes the myth of plantation paternalism and focuses on the brutality of the system. The sparse terrain of Southern California alone belies the excellent soil, plentiful rain, vibrant greenery, agricultural plenty and self-sufficiency of Southern plantations. The miniseries was a notorious myth-perpetrator, not because most of the portrayed events never occurred at different locations and times, but because an inaccurate picture arises from those events crammed into a TV mini-series. The miniseries, however, was for many Americans some of the first representations of African-American history ever seen on a mainstream level.
History is planning a remake of the miniseries after acquiring rights from David L. Wolper's son, Mark Wolper, and Alex Haley's estate. The planned new eight hour miniseries, with Mark Wolper as executive producer, will draw on Haley's novel and the original miniseries albeit from a contemporary perspective.
- Awards for "Roots"
- "Top 100 Rated TV Shows Of All Time, TV By the Numbers". Tvbythenumbers.com. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
- Hyatt, Wesley (2012). Television's Top 100. US: McFarland. p. 167. ISBN 978-0-7864-4891-3.
- "New Roots series expected to yield big bucks for ABC". Ottawa Citizen. February 20, 1979. p. 54. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- Courtis, Brian (February 19, 1979). "Roots...Second Time Around". The Age. p. 2. Retrieved 2010-02-25.
- "Museum of Broadcast Communications". Museum.tv. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
- kaplan, Robert; Buckman, Harry; and Kilsheimer, Richard (October 17, 1978). Plaintiffs’ Pre-Trial Memorandum and Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law". United States District Court, Southern District of New York; Harold Courlander, et ano., v. Alex Haley, et al: p. 1, Vol. I.
- Stanford, Phil (April 8, 1979). Roots and Grafts on the Haley Story. The Washington Star. pp. F.1.
- Kaplan, Robert; Buckman, Harry; and Kilsheimer, Richard (October 17, 1978). Plaintiffs’ Pre-Trial Memorandum and Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law". United States District Court, Southern District of New York; Harold Courlander, et ano., v. Alex Haley, et al: p. Woods 13, Vol. III.
- Stanford, Phil (April 8, 1979). "Roots and Grafts on the Haley Story". The Washington Star p.F.1.
- "Trial Transcript, United States District Court, Southern District of New York; Harold Courlander, et ano., v. Alex Haley, et al". 1978. p.1327".
- "The Roots of Alex Haley". BBC Television Documentary. 1997.".
- Stanford, Phil. ""Roots and Grafts on the Haley Story".". The Washington Star: p. F.4.
- Rich, Frank (February 18, 1979). "Television: A Super Sequel to Haley's Comet". Time. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
- "ABC Soard in Ratings With 'Roots' Sequel". Schenectady Gazette. February 24, 1979. p. 12. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
- "110 million see 'Roots' video special". The Tuscaloosa News. March 1, 1979. p. 8. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
- "'Roots' Ratings Dip". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. February 28, 1979. p. 29. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
- Hanauer, Joan (February 28, 1979). "ABC Takes "Roots" Again". The Bryan Times. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
- Gorman, Bill (May 21, 2009). "Top 100 Rated TV Shows Of All Time". Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "Roots" DVD details
- Steven Mintz (2009). "African American Voices: A Documentary Reader, 1619-1877". John Wiley & Sons. p.8. ISBN 1444310771
- "Bound To Africa — The Mandinka Legacy In The New World" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-17.
- Gleissner, Prison & Slavery - A Surprising Comparison (2010), pg 88.
- Andreeva, Nellie (November 5, 2013). "History To Remake Iconic ‘Roots’ Miniseries". Deadline. PMC. Retrieved November 6, 2013.