Race Inequality

“Roots” remake sheds light on mixed race slaves

My family and I grew up watching the original Roots and Roots: the Next Generation. When the remake was announced, I had high hopes for the upcoming episodes. So while I sat down to watch the next two episodes, two things came to my mind:

One: They actually got a mixed guy to play Chicken George! Yay!
Two: Why did they add all of that new stuff to the story?

Well, in regards to Chicken George:

In the original Roots, Chicken George’s multiraciality is barely touched on. In this version, Chicken George’s biological father and slave owner, Tom Lea, tries to maintain the legitimacy of his Irish identity while his mother, Kizzy, tries to maintain a hold on her African American roots (being bilingual, remembering her father’s ancestors). Chicken George enjoys the privileges of having lighter skin – receiving money from the cock fights and working alongside his father – while also remaining enslaved and bound to his slave owner’s demands.

Although artistic license continues to be used at its fullest, which can be a bit jarring, using it to display the historical context of one’s heritage like Chicken George’s provides layers that each of the characters have. It reemphasizes the intentions of Alex Haley telling his family stories in Roots (1976), in order for us to talk about all of our stories.

Which brings me to my second point: “Why does this all matter?”

Kizzy’s story line in the second episode and third episode very much reminds me of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, about a female slave who tried to kill her children to keep them from slavery. In addition, Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, an autobiographical account of her physical and sexual abuse as a slave before running to freedom in the North, came to mind. Jacobs writes to her audience of white women, reemphasizing how black and white women should form an alliance against the white men who harm black women to cheat on their white women.

In this new rendition of Roots, they keep the original story line of Kizzy’s rape by her slave owner, Tom Lea. Instead of pitting Kizzy and Tom’s wife, Tricia, against one another (as most of these narratives tend to go), they form an alliance by having Kizzy teach Tricia how to read better. Moreover, after her son George is born, we see the young Kizzy, attempt to kill her son and herself. However, Kizzy chooses to live, in order to honor her father’s legacy of strength. Whether this happened to Kizzy or not, we needed to see that because it did happen to women and children like her who were stuck in slavery, who needed to find a form of unity or who thought the only way they could find an escape from their lives was through death.

As we can see – there are similar plot lines between these books and episodes 2 & 3 of Roots.

The upcoming final installment of Roots is sure to be a powerful ending to what is already a brilliant remake.

By Maya Williams

Maya Williams has her Bachelor’s in Social Work and Bachelor’s in English from East Carolina University. She also has her Master’s in Social Work and Certificate in Applied Arts and Social justice from the University of New England. She has published articles and poems on sites such as The Tempest, INTER, Black Girl Nerds, Multiracial Media, GlitterMOB, and Soft Cartel. In her spare time, she enjoys writing and performing spoken word poetry, facilitating writing workshops for youth, and watching movies/musicals.