Right… so this is actually going to be quite hard to comment on. I don’t think I have ever heard the n-word uttered so many times in succession (outside of a rap album) as I did when watching Roots.
The thing is, Roots is one of those legendary pieces of television. One of the most watched series in US history with the final episode amazing around 100 million watchers (which beats out many Super Bowl broadcasts). To put this into perspective the finale of Friends was watched by ~63 million Americans – and we all know how big a show that was.
For those who have no idea what Roots is – think of it as a show depicting the history of a man caught in Africa by slavers and the next three generations of his lineage. Whilst Kunta Kinte is the first and most famous of main characters this is a four-hander of a show. Each of the four descendants has their own journey to make in the country that made sure they stayed enslaved.
Some of the more interesting, and telling, interactions as to the feelings at the time are between Kizzy (Kunta’s daughter) and Missy Anne (the white daughter of a slave owner). There is a scene where they are sitting together in the garden and they see each other as best friends (or at least very good friends), but some of the awful racist and sexist rhetoric that comes out of Missy Anne’s mouth… well it makes you angry.
As fantastically acted and paced as this show is (it comes in at around 9 hours) the emotion you are mostly left with is a mixture of anger and (as a white person) guilt. I mean… white people are just awful in this show. There is only one white beacon in this show he only appears right towards the end. Seriously, if it were not for Ol George and his wife then there is no good white character since, now let’s be honest, you can be the nicest slave owner in the world but you are still a fucking slaver owner.
Now if I were to shine a spotlight onto one character in this show it would have to be Chicken George. Of the four main characters (Kunta Kinte, Kizzy, Chicken George and Tom) he is the one that has the more unusual character arc. To start with, he is a child born of rape – his mother Kizzy having been raped by her ‘owner’. This immediately makes him different because he is mixed race (despite the fact that the actor is darker than his mother… but let’s not go into that right now), the son of a slave owner and, for a slave, had a fairly decent life looking after fighting cocks.
The journey that Chicken George is astounding. He goes form being fairly content in being a slave to actually being the first of the Kinte line to gain his freedom. By the end of it you could argue that, of Kinte’s descendants, he is the one most proud of his African roots. He is talented at what he does to the point that he is able to secure a sizeable piece of land in Tennessee and secure a life for himself and his family.
Of course I could go on and talk about this – but as I said before I want to stay away from being any form of controversial or insulting. I will never understand what it is to be black since I am a white man (albeit a gay white man) in a Western country. I get that I don’t get a lot of the feelings stirred up by this. Still, this is going to be one of those series that leaves a lasting effect on me – more so than 12 Years a Slave which feels incredibly vanilla compared to this landmark series.