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I watched "Roots" when I was fifteen years old, having absolutely *no* real-life experience to lend the series context - I lived in a sheltered, upper-middle class suburb, and had absolutely no exposure to any of this, except what I was taught in school. Having recently watched movies such as "Django Unchained," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" "Do the Right Thing," and "12 Years a Slave," I thought it was high time for *me* to do the right thing, and get back to the roots of all these movies - the original 1977 miniseries, which caused an incredible stir when it was released. It was hard to watch then, and I suspect it will be even harder to watch now that I have life's experiences behind me. I remember very well, about twenty years ago, a Jewish friend of mine watched all of "Shoah" - no small task - because he promised himself that he would, as a Jew, in order to educate himself and remember what happened to his people. For a similar - but opposite - reason, I'm watching Roots: Not because of what happened *to* my people, but because of what my people did *to* another race of innocents. Do I feel *personally* responsible for what occurred? I wasn't born yet, so how could I? Do I feel a responsibility for what occurred? Of course I do - primarily because it's still going on. A successful television broadcast is now considered to be about 10 million viewers - even though Roots got off to a relatively slow start, episode #1 was the only episode of the 8 - which ran every day for a week - that pulled in less than 30 million. It was remarkably successful, and well-received by both critics and the general public alike. Roots won 9 Emmy Awards with 28 nominations, and 1 Golden Globe Award with 2 nominations. Maybe I'm being a touch dramatic, but I hope this post inspires others to rewatch this important series. Amazon has the first episode for free, hoping to reel in viewers who will purchase the entire series for $34.99. I refuse to pay this, and am wondering if anyone knows where it can be viewed for less money. Alex Haley wrote the book (see below for additional information), and is implicitly credited as a Writer in all six episodes. There are simply too many stars in this series to do anything but add simple links for them - refer to their Wikipedia links for all the other work they've done - this would be a fool's errand for me to attempt. Jan 23 - Jan 29, 1977 - Episode List and Timetable Episode 1 - Directed by David Greene (Director of "Sebastian"), Written by William Blinn (Screenwriter of "Brian's Song") and Ernest Kinoy (Writer of "I Wouldn't Start from Here" on "Route 66") Featuring Edward Asner, O.J. Simpson, Ralph Waite, Ji-Tu Cumbuka, Maya Angelou, Moses Gunn, Thalmus Rasulala, Hari Rhodes, William Watson, Renn Woods, Levar Burton, Cicely Tyson, Ernest Thomas, Rebecca Bess, Henry Butts, Episode 2 - Episode 3 - Episode 4 - Episode 5 - Episode 6 - When the first episode ended, the first thing I thought of was the 9/11 attacks by Al-Qaeda: A few *morons* with letter openers brought down the World Trade Center, killing thousands in the process. It takes so little to do so much damage, and although slavery was a large institution, the protagonists in Episode 1 were just a few dozen idiots. Ironically, the victims of this crime against humanity were Muslim. I'm not sure how historically accurate that is (Alex Haley was caught plagiarizing parts of his book), but in Ghana, i,e., Northwest Africa, it's not impossible. "Miniseries: Roots Special" on pbs.org May 27, 2016 - "Roots: Behind the 1977 Series that Started a National Conversation" by Alynda Wheat on people.com
It's amazing how little I know about Malcolm X, considering how concerned I am about civil rights, and how ticked off I am at my forefathers for the crimes against humanity they committed. I've never read "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," and don't have time to do it right now, so I figured this was a good, next-best thing, although being filtered through the lens of Spike Lee - who, as much as I like him, clearly has an agenda - you really don't know if you're getting the genuine product. It is with that large grain of salt in mind that I begin Lee's 1992 film, "Malcolm X." "Conk" is a word that was entirely unfamiliar to me, but is apparently going to play a substantial role in this movie (a "conk" is the straightening of a black man's hair using a lye-based product - think of James Brown as an example). Our first scene with Malcolm Little (the given name of Malcolm X) features Denzel Washington getting conked in a barber shop in WWII-era Boston. Oh my goodness, I just now noticed this movie is 3:15 long! *** WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW *** This is going to be a controversial statement, but it's something that has weighed on me for a long time - and when I say "a long time," I mean for years and years. When Malcolm (still Malcolm Little at this point) gets out of solitary confinement, he's conking in the shower (get your minds out of the gutter, and see above for the definition of "conk"), and Baines (Albert Hall) berates Little - as well as every other black man "on the outside" - for conking, because, he said, it meant they were trying to not be black, i.e., they were ashamed of what they really were. I absolutely believe conking was an attempt to be "as white as possible," but that's not the controversial statement. Okay, here goes, and I'm taking a big risk in saying this ... It's time for Jewish actors and actresses to *stop using non-Jewish-sounding names*. I understand that they needed to do this, fifty, seventy-five years ago, and perhaps they still do, but it saddens my heart that Jon Liebowitz and Winona Horowitz had to change their last names to Stewart and Ryder, just because they didn't want to be perceived as being Jewish. That Joan Perske needed to be Lauren Bacall. and that Larry Leach needed to be Cary Grant. Bernie Schwartz needed to be Tony Curtis. Frances Gumm needed to be Judy Garland. Walter Matuschanskayasky needed to be Walter Matthau. (Okay, I'll let that one slide.) Charles Buchinsky needed to be Charles Bronson. Joan Molinsky needed to be Joan Rivers. Jerome Silberman needed to be Gene Wilder. David Kominsky needed to be Danny Kaye. Emanuel Goldenberg needed to be Edward G. Robinson. Ethel Zimmerman needed to be Ethel Merman. Chaim Liebovitz needed to be Lorne Greene. Esther Friedman needed to be Ann Landers. Irwin Kniberg needed to be Alan King. Joseph Levitch needed to be Jerry Lewis. Isadore Demsky needed to be Kirk Douglas. Melvin Kaminsky needed to be Mel Brooks. This list goes on, and on, and on, and on - I could spend hours writing a list of hundreds of names with whom you'd all be familiar, but you can research this yourselves on the internet. You know who has balls? This guy. Someone once asked him, "Is Goldberg your real name?" He said, "No, my real name is Killer, but I wanted a much more menacing name, so I picked Goldberg." I get it - it's not Jewish people's problem; it's *non*-Jewish people's problem - and instead of minimizing their chances of being lynched, they're maximizing their chances of being famous - but it all still boils down to the same fetid pot of shit that's more commonly known as prejudice. Back to the feature. I always said that, were I black and alive during the 50s and 60s, I would make Malcolm X look like Santa Claus; now that I've seen this portrayal of him (and I'm assuming it's reasonably accurate, if perhaps a bit whitewashed), I don't think that's true because X's message was plenty powerful - X was the bad cop to King's good cop, and when confronted with a bad and a good cop, someone being interrogated is *always* going to gravitate towards the good cop, and that's why King is so universally revered: He was less of a threat to us, so we accepted him as the lesser of two evils, and made him a national hero, while X is relegated to mere footnotes in history books relative to King. Think otherwise? Do we celebrate Malcolm X's birthday? Do you even know what year X was assassinated in? (Think about that one for a minute.) We should, because we needed X for King to succeed. This is something I've always thought, and this biography has done nothing to convince me otherwise. X is right: The white man *was* the devil. They enslaved an *entire race* of people for 400 years - how can they *not* be construed as pure evil by the black man? How can you blame the black man for coming up with *their own* religions and thought processes? The white ones weren't working for them in the least, and I think X is every bit the national hero that King is. That might piss some people off, but it's what I think and I don't care. I don't agree with everything X said or preached - not by a long shot - but I agree that he was necessary, and he was one hell of a catalyst for the civil rights movement in this country because he *scared the shit out of the white man* - and I think that's just awesome. Think we have equality now? I didn't even know Angela Bassett was portraying X's wife (what was her name again?) - I recognized Bassett's name, but I didn't even know what she looked like. I guarantee I would have recognized Meryl Streep or Glenn Close, but not Angela Bassett? Why not? I'll let you decide for yourselves why not. You know, the fact that I haven't said a single thing about the movie, says quite a bit about the movie. I'm now 2:15 into a 3:15 movie - with just an hour left, I feel like I'm watching an honest-to-goodness story of this man's life (which, I suppose, it's supposed to be). I feel like I "know" Malcolm X (which also probably means it's a well-done piece of movie-making - in reality, I know virtually (get it? @reallyvirtual?) nothing about Malcolm X). But two+ hours in, I don't feel like this film is dragging at all, or boring in any way - I've watched it over a couple of days, just because I have the attention span of a gnat, but while not exactly "action-packed," it's quite an enlightening piece of entertainment, and it makes me *think* that I'm learning something about the man. Again, I have to tell myself that this is all being filtered through the lens of Spike Lee, he of The Spike Lee Store - capitalizing off the white devil. You can't have it both ways, Mr. Lee, although you come about as close as possible. The scene with the eager white girl - the college student - approaching X and asking him what she can do to help his cause, before he casually replies, "Nothing," and walks away, is a personality trait that I would find repulsive, although it was probably a necessary character flaw - he either believed in his methodology all-the-way, or he wouldn't have believed in it at all - this scene makes that painfully clear. I'm not sure how I would have reacted to that at the time, but looking back, seeing the big picture, I understand. This was something that black people had to do for themselves, without any help from anybody else. Again, this made MLK one heck of a lot easier to swallow for a lot of white people - he was the lesser of two "evils." It's true. It wasn't *actually* true, but in the white man's mind, it was true. The one-on-one scene with X and Baines - the one about wealth - was riveting dialog. The foibles of greed and lust are human foibles; not black foibles or white foibles - I hold absolutely no disregard for anyone wishing to advance their position in life, or for having a sex drive; it's the hypocrisy that grates me. Don't preach abstinence if you're going to be a philanderer; don't preach honesty if you're going to be a thief. Here, I'm talking about the avarice of Baines; not anything in particular about X. In general (and this is purely personal philosophy; not some sort of universal truth), I have problems with greed more than I do lust, as lust is a basic human drive that cannot be contained; greed requires time to calculate and think, and is therefore the greater of the two sins. And there's nothing wrong with the desire for wealth, but everything must be done in moderation, and those who would purposefully trample on the backs of the needy to acquire wealth are some of the greatest sinners of all. I really thought - up until this moment - that Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Poole in Sandersville, GA, and played by Al Freeman, Jr.) was part Indian, but apparently not. As little as I knew (or know) about X, I know even less about Muhammad. He certainly comes across as a Gandhi-type figure in this film, but I've heard (and I don't know from where) that he had something of "a past," just as X did. Of course, who doesn't? Wow, the "Chickens coming home to roost" comment was a bit much, even for me. I understand it's merely an extension of what he said to that white college girl, but this really strikes close to the bone. I did not know X said this, and if this transpired in the way the movie portrayed, I condemn it in the strongest possible terms. However, like the rest of us, X merely needed to travel in order to grow up - as soon as he went abroad, he realized that the white man was *not* the devil; when a red-headed person spends their entire life trapped in a cell, and all they see is another red-headed person who brings them their food and water, every day, for their entire life, they will naturally think that all people have red hair. Travel forces you to expand your horizons, both literally and figuratively - my first trip to Europe in 1989 changed my life; I'm waiting for it to change more with trips to other continents - I have only visited two, so how could I possibly say that I have wisdom? Intelligence, yes. Education, yes. Wisdom? Many would say yes because of all the suffering I've been forced to endure; I say no, for I have not seen the world. This has nothing to do with the movie, other than the fact that it was in it - it's such a beautiful, important picture: It's interesting that in his letter to his wife from Egypt, X (or Denzel Washington), says, aloud, "I am not a racist, and I do not subscribe to the tenets of racism," and pronounced "tenets" as "tenants." Was this scripted? Or is this how Washington speaks, and it slipped past the editors? I *love* the subtle smile X shows his assassin, the moment the trigger is about to be pulled - he knew it was when and not if: And how do you not love this picture? Without spoiling the ending of the movie with a photo, let me just say that it was awesome, as was the film as a whole - I always thought "Do The Right Thing" was Spike Lee's best picture, but this is at another level.