'Roots': THR's 1977 Review
On Jan. 23, 1977, ABC aired the television adaptation of Alex Haley's landmark novel Roots. The drama went on to be nominated for 37 honors and claimed nine wins at the 29th Primetime Emmys. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.
There is no doubt that this searingly honest look at a part of our American history that has been suppressed and distorted for 200 years will have a strong social impact.
The first four fours of this epic drama is about the capture of 17-year-old Kunta Kinte on the West African coast in 1767; his grim journey to America chained in the hold of a ship; his businesslike sale at an auction; his attempted escape from a plantation; and the final cruel breaking of his proud spirit.
The everyday facts of life in slave-rich America are unforgivably vicious but, at every moment, we are given truly human dimension to these inhuman events. Inherent in the story of the degradation and persecution of blacks in America is the omnipresent fact of violence and, ironically, in this case the violence shown could not be suppressed without again suppressing the truth.
American actors, whose brilliance is too often overlooked, prove to be equal to their BBC counterparts in this magnificent vehicle.
Cicely Tyson and Thalmus Rasulala are Kunta's parents; Maya Angelou is his grandmother; Harry Rhodes, Moses Gunn and Ji-Tu Cumbuka are his tribal teachers; O.J. Simpson and Ren Woods are neighbors; Edward Asner is the ship's captain; Ralph Waite is the first mate; Lorne Greene is Kunta's first owner; Louis Gossett Jr. is his slave-born friend, and Vic Morrow is the overseer. Newcomer LeVar Burton is a wonderfully human Kunta Kinte who has the spirit of a boy but the courage of a man.
William Blinn has developed Alex Haley's landmark novel for TV with taste and compassion; he also has written these scripts with Ernest Kinoy; David Greene is director of the first three hours, with John Erman completing Part II; author Haley serves as consultant; exquisite photography is by Stevan Larner with effective music by Quincy Jones (premiere) and Gerald Fried; producer is Stan Margulies, executive producer is David L. Wolper. — Morna Murphy, originally published on Jan. 21, 1977