This is the new version, that aired on the History Channel a couple weeks ago. I’ve never seen the original. I had this conversation about it with my mother:
Mom: The original was very well-done.
Me: I’ve heard the Africa parts were rather terrible.
Mom: Yes, that’s true.
Without having seen the original, I can say that I agree with this take, with the obvious caveat that I take them on their word as to how the original was. There certainly aren’t sympathetic white people. At best, there are clueless white people. And there is an expanded section in Africa, which places Kunta Kinte in a very specific village in a very specific area, with specific rituals and a clear path his life would have followed had he not been kidnapped away from it and even clear rivalries with other tribes that led directly to his kidnapping and selling.
It’s a tough watch. There are little bumpers before each commercial break that say “You’re watching Roots!” or “Keep watching for more Roots!” which I guess is supposed to smooth the way between watching a foot get chopped in half and a commercial for Subaru. The story transitions from Kunta Kinte, who gets his foot chopped for trying to escape but still always thinks of this place as temporary, to his daughter Kizzy, who spends most of her life as a sex slave, to her son George, who is convinced that if he plays the game well enough he’ll actually win, to his son Tom, who is mostly an angry young man. (Tom doesn’t get too much screen time before the Civil War ends, but he is the first to have a child who is born free.) There’s occasionally reference to the fact that white women were only a little better off than slaves, but they also had an unfortunate tendency to misuse this position to make themselves feel better about also being conscripted to the whims of assholes. Seriously, we think we have problems with entitled white men now? Yes, yes, #notallmen, but the point is that no one today would think about blaming and abusing someone over a hurricane the way the slaves get blamed here. For a hurricane. Like, “how could you let this happen?” type blaming. There’s also a mind-boggling scene after the end of the Revolutionary War, when the white people fill the street celebrating because “we’re free!” (I’m from New England, where the Revolutionary War is taught with a distinct New England slant that tends to ignore that slavery already existed in this country.)
My mother and I both agreed that it’s an excellent story that only needs to be seen once, which is probably why remaking it once per generation is a good idea. And as much as it only needs to be seen once, it really needs to be seen. Happy Juneteenth!