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Roots, historically, was vitally important; as a movie, it holds up after thirty years.

DVD Review: Roots: 30th Anniversary Edition

Roots: 30th Anniversary Edition is a four-disk release of the classic Alex Haley story that was published in 1976. In 1977, Roots: The Saga of an American Family was televised as a miniseries and was heralded as a ground-breaking event in U.S. television history. It won nine Emmys, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody Award. It received unprecedented Nielsen ratings and captivated American television audiences. It crossed racial lines and was watched by families of all ethnic groups.

According to legend, Alex Haley traces his family history back to the African Kunta Kinte, who was captured by slave traders in 1767. Over the years, each generation passed down an oral history of Kunta's experiences as a free man in Gambia along with words and traditions that he taught them.

The story begins with the birth of Kunta Kinte in 1750 to a Mandinka tribesman. Kunta grows up with his tribe until the age of 16, when he is ambushed by slave traders. The story traces his ordeal in coming to America and follows the story through the seven generations until modern times. What also works well is the way that the movie integrates notable events in U.S. history such as the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, uprisings, and other events. This makes it a history lesson on a couple of different levels.

Kunta Kinte (played by Levar Burton and later by John Amos) impressed on his daughter Kizzy (played by Leslie Uggams) to pass down the oral history that he was born a free man. She passed it down to her son "Chicken" George Moore (played by Ben Vereen) who passed it down until it reached Alex Haley.

The acting is brilliant as is the plot. The story brings to life the horrors of slavery, the breaking up of families to be sold to other plantations, and how honor and dignity can still survive under the direst circumstances. The story emphasizes the importance of knowing one's roots, of knowing that one's history can remain alive in spirit if heritage is kept alive.

Roots holds up really well after thirty years. The cultural climate has changed considerably and I believe that this movie is the cause for much of that change. Sure there are some long-winded portions, but what do you expect for a nine hour plus movie?
There is also a disk of extras that include commentaries on each episode from David L. Wolper and others. There is a "Remembering Roots" feature that does the same with the actors. There is the 1978 TV special Roots: One Year Later which has Alex Haley reflecting on the success of Roots. And there is "Crossing Over", which reflects on the skepticism about putting on a 12-hour miniseries.

My only complaint is that Warner Brothers did not choose to make this the complete 12-hour series as it was televised. I would think that for an anniversary edition, that they could add an extra DVD. But since this has never been done on video or DVD, there is no other alternative.

Beyond that, I would highly recommend this DVD!

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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