I watched Alex Haley’s ROOTS for the first time in February of 2009. 2 years later, I’m still caught up in the magnificence of this remarkable piece of work. What an audacious, wonderful, life-affirming gift!!! I have to say, I’m actually glad I didn’t see it when it aired in 1977, I would not have appreciated the many facets of this historical and artistic tour de force. All told, ROOTS is a reminder to never forget who we are, where we come from and the significance of our oral traditions. I’m more than familiar with the innards of the horrendous institution of slavery, but ROOTS still struck a deep, powerful and cathartic chord, in fact several, at the core of my being. In addition to the inspiring and moving story of how Alex Haley came to write this tale, the boldness and commitment of the producers, directors, script writers, crew and network executives, the stunning work by the cast, I am in awe at the effect and response the show elicited when it was first aired. What a blessing to be part of such a powerful, life-changing project! It certainly reaffirmed my commitment to transformational performing arts and the importance of telling our stories. I watched the entire series in 2 sittings. Then I rewatched it, listening to the commentary, including the additional anniversary DVD. I was, and am, transfixed and transported. The series moved along briskly, covering 4 generations and capturing some of the most moving and credible performances. I went through a gamut of emotions and responses: interest, elation, anger, revulsion, pain, laughter, grief, abject despair, soul-stirring joy, celebration and all-encompassing pride. I really wish Alex Haley was alive so I could thank him. This quiet, powerful man told a story, offered us a window into his life and history and left an indelible mark on the world. He is definitely one of my heroes. Words aren’t enough to acknowledge and thank the expansive cast that took on this task. Of course, it was an extra special treat to see the amazing array of African-American/Caribbean acting royalty in one programme. I have to single out a few people: Ed Asner, Robert Reed and Sandy Duncan were great, the iconic Cicely Tyson was radiant and real as Binta Kinte, Richard Roundtree gave a surprisingly sparkling and touching performance as Sam, Olivia Cole was marvelous as Matilda, Georg Stanford Brown consummately captured the character Tom, Leslie Uggams was fiery fabulous as Kizzy, John Amos was solid, stately and spot-on as the adult Kunta Kinte, Ben Vereen lit up the screen as Chicken George, the then 19 year old newcomer LeVar Burton was luminous and exceptionally expressive as young Kunta (I’d love to meet him, I am struck and moved by his energy, aura and spirit) and our own Madge Sinclair was absolutely magnificent as Bell (I wish I had met her before she died). The performance of the whole show was Louis Gossett as Fiddler…..I’m getting goose bumps and teary-eyed just from typing this. What a stunning, flawless, nuanced and controlled crafting of the wonderful character!! What a gift! Thank you Mr. Gossett (I hope I get to hold his hand and thank him face to face one day!) The final thought I have is that in the many places where I cried silently, sobbed audibly, smiled broadly and sighed it was as a result of the grace, nobility, reverence, truth and love with which this epic was presented.
I am forever changed……ROOTED.