So, they’ve rebooted “Roots,” the epic miniseries originally produced in 1977 that tried to confront modern popular audiences with the institution of slavery. (I discussed the original “Roots” in an article I did about 1970s TV miniseries). This article, from Al Mackey’s excellent Student of the American Civil War blog, presents his review of the 2016 version as well as a roundup of comments from others in the know. If you have an interest in how American history is portrayed in popular culture, this article is worth your time.

I’m especially intrigued by the comment made by Dr. Brasher, quoted here, regarding the casting of slaveowners in the original. In 1977 the makers of “Roots” deliberately sought to cast actors who were favorite heroes, “TV dads” and other type roles, Lorne Greene (“Gunsmoke”) being one example. This was part of the series’s cultural impact. I haven’t seen the new version, but I’m wondering, without that element, whether the impact of the reboot will be much lessened. Still, it’s very heartening to see the agency of African-Americans in slavery, and their various complex strategies for resistance and cohesion, portrayed more accurately and delicately in 2016 than was probably ever possible in the 1970s. Very interesting review, and thanks Al Mackey.

Student of the American Civil War


By now, many of you may have seen the updated version of the blockbuster television hit, Roots, based on the novel by Alex Haley.

I enjoyed the original broadcast, and I enjoyed this one as well. It’s a very dramatic story with fine acting. Alex Haley was a talented writer, so the producers of this miniseries had good material at the start.

The trailer for the original miniseries:

The trailer for the remake:

In a movie like this, in a historical setting about a significant part of our nation’s history, it’s almost inevitable questions of accuracy arise. Let me say at the outset, this is a movie, not a history book. Its objective isn’t to teach us about history. Its objective is to entertain us. Having said that, though, it can be a vehicle through which we can learn more history, provided we use it with care.


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