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Too centered on one individual family, if not man,
This review is from: Roots - Series 2 : The Next Generation [DVD] (DVD)
This TV mini-series has become a classic in some twenty or thirty years and it deserves to be, both in its first part and in its second part. Yet the quality of the filming and editing has aged and the film is not served by the fact it was done for television that tends to show too many close-ups and to avoid vast rapid movements and wide landscapes. But it has become a classic by the theme it deals with.
The second part takes us to the 1960s and is telling the history of the USA after the Civil War as much at least as the history of this family. So we see the reconstruction period, and then the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, the imposition of segregation, the First World War, the New Deal and the Second World War, and then the post war period. In this second series that ends with the real author as the main character, Haley himself, I am amazed by the fact that it is more contemplative of the injustice coming up than really fighting against it. The only positive point is education. But if there is some kind of resistance it is always that of one person and not of the community. If in the 1930s, the subsidies voted by Congress to small farmers to help them survive the crisis and get even, blacks included, are systematically, for the blacks at least, hijacked by the land-owners to their own profit and if one black farmer manages to get his check it is the result of the private initiative of one man and the black farmer ends up in prison, wounded and under a prosecution that will keep him in prison for a while and his mules have been repossessed by the landowner and the little farmer has been totally pauperized and expelled from the county if not the state. If after the war there is some improvement the discourse is concentrating on the personal efforts of Alex Haley, his own personal way to some kind of wealth and grace. The closest we get to the struggle of the black community for the end of discrimination and more justice is a couple of scenes with Malcolm X and his assassination. But where is Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and the collective massive fights and battles waged by the blacks, including against the Vietnam War. Even Kennedy is evoked as some kind of epiphenomenon that does not count for much, and his assassination is not even evoked. That has to lead to a real ego trip at the end and Alex Haley going back to Gambia and meeting with the griot of the village of his ancestors and hearing from his mouth the story that had been told from generation to generation in his family and meeting one last descendant who still has the name Kinte like the ancient ancestor Kunta Kinte. And Alex Haley himself adds a verbose conclusion about the importance of knowing one's ancestors. What a pride am I supposed to get from the fact that my ancestors were the serfs of a small nobleman who ended up in the French Academy under King Louis XV and whose name they all took during the revolution? That kind of nostalgia may make us unable to embrace the future today.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, University Paris 8 Saint Denis, University Paris 12 Créteil, CEGID