'Roots' for Dinner, 'Django' for Dessert

Ebony arts and culture editor Miles Marshall Lewis compares Alex Haley's family story to Quentin Tarantino's spaghetti Western and explains why they're equally relevant.

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Columbia Pictures

As a child in the 1970s, Ebony editor Miles Marshall Lewis watched enough Good Times episodes to know black people were suffering beyond his South Bronx window -- he didn't want to watch Roots, too. He's changed his mind now. He advises people to take in Roots, which celebrates its 35th anniversary in January, and then watch the revenge fantasy-spaghetti Western Django Unchained.

Roots is another beast entirely. The late Alex Haley traced his lineage back to the Gambia, and wrote the history of Kunta Kinte (Haley's first African descendant to be enslaved in America) in the 1976 bestseller Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The miniseries was a wildfire, winning nine Emmys and racking up unprecedented TV ratings that rank among the highest ever to this day.

Kunta Kinte (in actor LeVar Burton's first major acting role), a young Mandinka, gets abducted by White traders in West Africa and shipped with his tribe to Maryland, to be sold into slavery. Haunted by his memories of freedom, Kunta—renamed Toby by his new owners—repeatedly tries escaping his plantation until his foot is nearly chopped off. Without summarizing all six parts, you already know no Africans learn how to shoot a sawed-off shotgun; no enslaved brothers burn any plantations to a crisp; and the one opportunity for a Black man to whip his overseer is nobly passed up.

"We ain't gonna have that Roots bulls**t, where Chicken George gets the whip and… he says, 'To whip you would make me as bad as you,' "  Tarantino recently told EBONY in an exclusive interview. "I'm saying to myself, 'Whip his ass!' Django whips his ass!"

Indeed he does, and it's the most satisfying, revenge-fulfilling moment of Django Unchained.

Read Miles Marshall Lewis' entire piece at Ebony.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff. 

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