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MCN Review: 'Roots'

Four-night miniseries demonstrates the power of a story 5/30/2016 8:00 AM Eastern
History's 'Roots' reboot

Related: What History Wants You To Know About 'Roots'

 

How do you keep a family together over generations when its members are enslaved, broken apart and suppressed in the most brutal ways imaginable? Through the power of a story — the story of the family’s founder, and of his African traditions.

 

This version of Roots — “reimagined” as four two-hour TV movies, nearly 40 years after the original miniseries aired on ABC — is strong on the Mandinka warrior origins, as one might expect from a History production that aimed to add new information and insights learned over the decades. Kunta Kinte, the young man captured in West Africa and sold into slavery in the United States, played by LeVar Burton in the original, is vividly portrayed here by Malachi Kirby in nights one and two.

 

Anika Noni Rose also especially shines as Kizzy, daughter of Kunta Kinte and Belle (Emayatzy Corinealdi) — the brutality and violence they endure is truly shocking and many moments are very moving. “We fight when we have to, but first we have to survive,” an adult Kizzy tells her son, Chicken George (Regé-Jean Page), and you have to see what that survival costs to appreciate the impact of those simple words.

 

After the initial sequences in Africa (filmed in South Africa), the tension feels almost nonstop, from capture to the slave-ship horrors through plantation experiences, with few moments of emotional relief achieved via revenge or the reunion of parted loved ones. That changes during night four, which also is when some of the historical events (such as Nat Turner’s Rebellion and the Civil War) feel a bit more forced in. Overall, though, the four movies flow together through many moments of holding one’s breath.

 

Roots airs over four consecutive nights, simulcast on A&E and Lifetime as well as on History.

 

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