Common Sense Note
Parents need to know that Roots is the classic 1977 miniseries based on the best-selling book by Alex Haley, who spent 13 years tracing his genealogy back to 1750. In graphic and heartrending detail, the miniseries shows the brutality and misery of slavery, from people who were kidnapped from their villages in Africa to the slave auctions that separated families to the degrading conditions on plantations. Unsurprisingly, as an evocation of the cultural attitudes of the 18th and 19th centuries, the "N" word is frequently used, and white characters frequently discuss African-Americans in derogatory terms; but the dignity of Kunta Kinte and his descendants throughout the miniseries shines as a contrast to such degradation and offers hope in a series of seemingly hopeless situations. Obviously, the racism, profanity, and violence are meant to bring into clear focus the horror of those times. Make no mistake: Roots is absolutely crucial and necessary viewing for any American seeking to understand her or his history, the lessons to be learned from that history, its effects on those who lived it, and the resonance we feel today from the events chronicled within it.
In Episode One, the puberty rites of an African tribe are discussed. Brief nonsexual nudity of African tribal women.
As an unsparing account of the ravages and despair of slavery, Roots shows many instances of the abuse of slaves. Slaves are whipped, beaten, and tied up in chains. The raping of female slaves by their white owners is discussed and shown right before the act occurs, on several occasions. A slave gets half of his foot cut off by slave catchers after the slave attempts an escape from a plantation. On a slave ship sailing between Africa and America, an African woman jumps off a boat to her death. Some gunplay and knifeplay. After the Civil War, racist whites set fire to black sharecroppers' homes.
Frequent use of the "N" word, both by whites and African-Americans. Other mild profanity throughout includes "dammit," "bitch," and "hell."
Through example, this film shows the triumph of human dignity in the face of tremendous suffering and oppression.
Drugs / Tobacco /
White characters are often shown drinking wine, cider, or rum. One of the slave owners is frequently shown intoxicated on rum; in one scene, he's passed out drunk in the back of a carriage. Characters smoke cigarettes, cigars, and pipes (accurate for the era).