Based on Alex Haley's bestseller
, the 1977 TV mini-series Roots
told the harrowing story of one man's ancestors, commencing with African warrior Kunta Kinte, captured, transported to America, stripped of his dignity, his rights, and even his name. He tries but fails to escape before accepting he can never return to Africa. He marries and bears a daughter, Kizzy, who is callously sold, then raped by her new "master". However, her son, Chicken George, a resourceful dab hand with gamecocks, lives long enough to see his own children attain a liberty of sorts following the Civil War.
Roots is told in the same, accessible televisual language as The Waltons or Bonanza, yet it is never bland or evasive. It leaves no doubt as to the torment and abuse suffered by blacks, and although the series' conclusion is fictionally satisfying, for many of the black characters their only hope lies in generations yet unborn.
It is sturdy enough drama but its greatest, most revolutionary effects were social. It persuaded American audiences to regard their history from a black perspective, and to see how--against odds far more desperate than those the pilgrims faced--Africans laid claim to their status as free African-Americans. Roots was massively popular, triggering a craze for genealogy and paving the way for series like 1979's Holocaust, which similarly raised the public's awareness of the slaughter of the Jews under Hitler. Most importantly, Roots changed forever the way black people were depicted on American TV.
On the DVD: Roots is presented in 1:33:1 format and is visually extremely well-preserved. Extra features include a "Roots Family Tree", a copious, informative audio commentary featuring members of cast and crew, and a documentary, "Remembering Roots". Although this consists only of interviews, these convey the extraordinary emotional grip this project had on those who took part in it.--David Stubbs