Friday, June 10, 2016
This History channel mini-series has shot to the top of my list of favourite 2016 TV shows so far, so a blog entry is inevitable.
It was rather unexpected, to be honest. I read Alex Haley's epic novel as a teen ( and did a massive book review for my school holiday assignment, which my English teacher never marked hmph! ) and am familiar with the story. But I wondered if the small screen adaptation would succeed in conveying the key elements of this saga and managing its large number of characters.
3 episodes in, I'm emotionally exhausted and in complete awe. Every episode averages 90 minutes but feels a lot longer - not because it drags or bores, but because of the mind-boggling amount of material packed into each installment. It just doesn't seem possible for so much to happen within such a short duration. ( If only more films could follow this format! )
Since the story spans multiple generations, the writers devote one episode to each protagonist, allowing ample time for key storylines to play out before moving on. And lest you think they start to become repetitive and dull after a while, the complete opposite happens. Slave owners and drivers come in different shapes and sizes, with individual quirks and torture method preferences. Some may be less cruel than others, but pay attention and you'll notice fleeting moments that illustrate the deep-seated hatred simmering beneath even the most benign-looking faces ( clue: Matthew Goode's Dr. William Waller ).
But this production obviously belongs to the African-American cast. I know a few of the actors ( Oscar winner Forest Whitaker being the most prominent ) but the ones I don't are the most impressive. Malachi Kirby ( Kunta Kinte ) and Rege-Jean Page ( Chicken George ) stand out from the pack, infusing their roles with intense, heartbreaking performances which reduced me to tears. Anika Noni Rose also shines as strong-willed Kizzy.
Special mention goes to Jonathan Rhys Meyers ( Tom Lea ), whose career I've followed since 2002's Bend It Like Beckham. Accomplished but underrated, he scorches the screen as a complicated villain, and practically steals everyone else's thunder. If he isn't nominated for an Emmy this year, I'm going to be extremely upset.
I'm finishing up the final episode this weekend, but am likely to rate it at least a 9/10 on IMDB.
Slavery is a horrific part of American history, and even today, racial tensions still permeate the country. The revival of Roots is a timely one, occurring while the United States is being governed by its first black President, and police brutality against African-Americans keeps making headlines. It's hard to imagine how one human being is capable of unspeakable cruelty towards another, but even harder to understand why it still happens today.
Roots expertly illustrates cruelty in its many forms, including a harrowing flogging scene which is not recommended for those with weak constitutions. However, it also shows that the greatest pain isn't inflicted through physical or verbal abuse. Instead, it's through a broken promise - a softly spoken betrayal, moments after giving a man hope of attaining freedom.
This series needs to be seen and its message conveyed. Like the Holocaust, slavery must never be forgotten, and those of us who're blessed with the opportunity to live as free people should cherish this privilege.
( Now awaiting season 2 of Netflix's Narcos, rumoured to be premiering in August! This was my favourite TV series in 2015. One of the most amazing shows I've ever seen. )