FEB 11, 2017 SCREENING: ROOTS (1977) Part 5: 1841-1865
Roots really begins to mirror itself in strange ways as I sat thru the entire saga. Just as Episode 3 had some problems because I couldn’t buy that John Amos was playing the same role as LeVar Burton, here the episode suffers from not buying that the character is the biological child of two other characters. Ben Vereen plays Chicken George, who is supposedly the light-skinned son of Kizzy and her master Tom Moore, born as a result of one of the many times he raped her.
Of course, the reality is that Ben Vereen doesn’t look anything like the actor playing his “father”, nor is there anything to suggest he has mixed race ancestry. Genes are a funny thing, but the movie just wants us to accept this fact when the way it’s shown on screen doesn’t convey that idea at all. I suppose part of the idea behind the story is that Tom Moore takes George under his wing and makes him his prized cockfighter because he knows he’s his son (Moore even admits so much later in the episode when Kizzy tells George and George demands to know how Tom Moore can be so heartless to his family given this fact). Still, I thought this concept could have executed better in the story.
The fact Chicken George grows up to become a prized cockfight worked very well for me, and is a reminder that this story is set in the early 19th century when blood sports was considered just as morally acceptable as slavery. Social standards were quite different than America today, and I didn’t think that was conveyed very well in the first episode, given that the slave trade was occurring around the same time when American colonists were still executing people falsely accused of “witchcraft”. For a television movie, this episode did a good job recreating the “excitement” 19th century chicken fights without hurting any animals involved.
One big missing chuck in the story is that Chicken George goes away to England on business for two decades, only to return home a much older and wiser man. What happened in England is completely omitted here, but apparently that tale is told in the remake (I look forward to seeing it)
In any case, Episode 5 contains some brutal revelations for the characters that people aren’t always what they seem to be, and many of the characters from the fourth episode really change as a result of what happens here. By the end of the story, Chicken George has become a grandfather himself, and it nicely sets up the final episode while weaving in the real life story of Nat Turner and the slave rebellion, the Civil War, and the fall of the antebellum south. Overall, aside from the unbelievable part of Chicken George’s roots, this is a well told tale.
*** out of ****