FEB 12, 2017 SCREENING: ROOTS (1977) Part 6: 1865-1870
Last but not least, we come to the final episode of the original Roots miniseries. I feared it might be a bit anti-climatic, as Chicken George managed to buy himself freedom in the last episode (prior to the abolition of slavery), but this episode really goes out with a bang and shows the audience how life was completely turned upside for former slavers following the death of the institution and the start of reconstruction in the south.
There is one extremely heroic white character in Roots, and he is depicted towards the very end of the miniseries. Roots concocts some action-packed subplot where the white guy who is on good terms with the slaves helps them get out of the town by pretending to restore the status quo to the community and put them all back to work as virtual slaves, only as a ruse so they can all fool the evil white people in town, hold ‘em hostage, and ultimately give them their just desserts as the former slaves make their getaway in covered wagons. The sad reality of the post-slavery era is many former slaves did end up in virtually the same positions they held before, but that doesn’t make for exciting television. So instead, we’re given a nice “cinematic” fiction where they live Happily Ever After. It makes for good television but distracted away from the earlier point in the episode to sincerely show the difficulties of the former slaves trying to integrate into a society where they were raised not to function in.
Another really silly element of the final chapter is that Roots depicts an entirely fictional origin of the KKK. Here, they start off a “Nightwatch” group in town that wants revenge on the slaves for being freed, but evolves into the KKK when one evil white guy accidentally burns two holes into a white floor sack and realizes it would make a nifty hood to hide the identity of himself and his fellow racists. The role of this particularly evil white person is played by none other Lloyd Bridges. Given that I was used to seeing Bridges in goofy, silly roles like Airplane, it was bit strange to see him as the most evil of the evil white people in the entire Roots miniseries, and he was really getting a kick of his role here and playing the baddie to the hilt.
The only real disappointment here is that I expected Roots to move away from Historic Fiction into Historic Reenactments by the final episode, given that we know far more about the real life person of Chicken George and the end of slavery in 1870 than we know about the alleged “Kunta Kinte” person who lived in Africa in the “1670s”. A more accurate depiction of these characters could have been used to tell the final chapter, but Roots went for cheap thrills and cute one-liners. The saga also “wrapped up” nicely with Chicken George’s descendants all know the life story of Kunta Kinte and loyally passing it down from generation to generation – something that clearly did not happen in real life.
Alex Haley himself finished up this story with a nice monologue, summarizing his ancestry to the present day. However, I felt the story wasn’t really finished – there was another century of his family’s history after slavery, and one that Roots simply glossed over in a few minutes. Roots: The Next Generations would continue the story and tell it in detail. I am looking forward to those adventures, and I felt that Roots, while satisfying on its own, was still missing a big piece of the puzzle.
*** out of ****