The miniseries is based off a historical novel, Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Kunta Kinte was born in Gambia, West Africa to Muslim parents. When Kunta is 15, he and a group of other teenager males take part in a ceremony where they “come into their manhood.” It is at this time they become official Mandinka warriors. Kunta is later captured outside of his village by another tribe and sold to slave traders and taken to America. He continuously tries to escape from his master until the last time when he gets his foot cut off. Kunta settles into his place and marries the cook and they bore a child, Kizzy. She is sold to another master and while there, she has a child by the plantation owner. Her son, Chicken George, grows up and leads his family to freedom. Over the six episodes the family lives through the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, slave uprisings and emancipation.
The entire saga spans across six generations and 100 years. To start from the beginning, certain African tribes have a custom of taking those who they have conquered and turning them into slaves. Their form of slavery was not the same as when the white man came along and turned the Africans into cotton picking slaves. Roots introduced the underlying issue of black people selling other black people. It was not officially talked about in the episodes but if attention is closely paid, this can be implied. When Kunta is chained and waiting to be transported, you will notice both black and white people walking around with whips. The series could have acknowledged this aspect more just so that it could be further understood.
The representation of slavery is a highly emotive experience. Historical contexts in movies and on TV have often shown to be important in the creation of public memory. The program Roots was and still is one of the main sources of people’s perceptions and memories of the past and it introduced the brutality of enslavement. The show has since been recognized for its realism and candor. The miniseries struck a chord with national audiences that were connected to the African Diaspora and beyond. Certain scenes and sequences and themes have been reused by films and other television shows, such as Amistad which was released in 1997. It is evident that Amistad drew heavily from the Roots television series; the scenes of rebellion on the slave ship are closely similar to Roots. This connection is used to draw the viewers into a similar area that they have seen and possibly now understands. Also, it helps those that were captive and put on the slave ship to win favor with the audience.
One reason viewers are so accepting and in favor of the Africans can be related to the presumption of the realistic nature of history being portrayed as it was in Roots. The way that scenes from Roots have been recycled throughout TV and films shows the needs and desires of society at that moment in time. Roots had a large impact on American society that not one person can deny, it was the story of how a man was taken from his original home, transported, had his name changed, beaten and maimed, started his own family and eventually gained freedom. This is a story not often told and even looked over by the Caucasians and African-Americans. If Alex Haley had not written about this, would we as African-Americans know how we made it to this American soil?