30 thoughts on “Roots (2016): Part 1

  1. So, the original series won an Emmy for costume design. You’ll have to do a comparison now.

    1. Yeah, and my understanding is that part of the reason for its impact at the time was the totally novel idea of an African American being able to trace his family tree back past slavery and all the way to Africa. As a genealogy TV show nerd, I can tell you that even being able to get pre-Civil War is amazing for many African Americans.

      1. I saw the original series when it first came out in 1977 and it was definitely marketed as being true and that’s the way it was spun in the media. We even devoted a week to discussing this in my high school US History class.

      2. Not long after the series aired, I was working in the Dept. of Vital Records for my state, and we were quite annoyed with the way the series gave the impression that the records were all there SOMEWHERE, as long as you found the right staffer who knew where they were kept.

        The reality was that our records were spotty at best for all people prior to WWI, because there was no requirement to centralize records. Even worse, home births attended by a “granny lady” (midwife) sometimes didn’t get recorded for years, if at all.

        So if it actually had been “marketed and sold as a work of fiction,” our lives would’ve probably been a little easier…

  2. Could the “toe” shirt referred to above be “tow?” Definition of tow. 1 : short or broken fiber (as of flax, hemp, or synthetic material) that is used especially for yarn, twine, or stuffing. 2a : yarn or cloth made of tow b : a loose essentially untwisted strand of synthetic fibers. (Merriam Webster dictionary). Just sayin’.

  3. Definitely a trainwreck when it comes to Elizabeth’s wardrobe. It’s like the budget was getting thin by the time they shot her scenes.

  4. (I spy the redhead who played Van Gough in the Doctor Who episode that broke my heart.)

    Hmm. I wonder if maybe the costume designers got so busy admiring all the FIIINE actors around, they forgot to check paintings to see what the women wore in the period?

    Hey, it would be MY excuse.

    It’s weird to get so much right, and then her… wrong.

    (This reminds me of the Show Not to be Named, but starts with TU and ends with DORS, where I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when Jane Seymour showed up in a bad turquoise Ren Fair rental at least two hundred years out of date in season two.)

    I just.

    I get it, budgets are tiny on these shows, but WHY???

  5. Now, having seen the original (big ST:TNG fan and Geordie was a favourite character), I was unsure of watching this one. Now I will. The African civilisation bits look very accurate and intriguing. Also will be able to popcorn screen for Elizabeth’s meh and inaccurate costumes.
    The actor playing Kunta, Malachi Kirby, looks to be always thinking and is nice eye candy.

  6. The extra with the Gibson Girl hairdo actually has REALLY good hair for the whole Camille Clifford look.

    Which, of course, is not so good given it’s supposed to be 18th century.

  7. The story and many of the actors are great (and the actual history is of course horrible!), but the costumes do not improve in episode 2.
    Yes, most of the men´s costumes and also some of the female slave´s are ok, but upper class ladies wear: still WTF! A little girl has a PERFECT 1650s hairstyle (in the late 1790’s), and in the same decade we get a short glimpse of two rich ladies who seem to have quite nice Edwardian dresses and hair…..

    I will continue with episode 3 and cling to my hope that 19th century will be closer to home.

  8. I find it’s really very common for movies and shows to do a bang-up job with men’s costumes (especially when there’s uniforms involved) but completely fall down when it comes to women’s and I still can’t figure out how/why this happens. Do producers/production people think audiences require women to be more “modern relatable” than men? This particular example seems especially jarring – her clothes are just SO BAD. And considering most everything else looks good to very good and that a lot of care has been taken it’s really so baffling.

    I did have a sudden thought with regards to the wonky fit of the bodice of the red dress – I’ve encountered numerous extant 18th century dresses with darts in bodice fronts from when they were re-used as late 19th c fancy dress. But someone who doesn’t specialize in the period is much less likely to pick up on alterations or even be able to recognize them at all. So perhaps actual extant 18th century dresses that have been altered could be the reason for this? If so – I definitely need to get onto publishing my PhD thesis! lol

    1. oooo, interesting idea about the darts/fancy dress thing!

      I feel like part of the reason the men’s costumes are always so much better is that suits are more relatable to modern audiences and understandable to modern designers/makers than women’s wear usually is.

  9. Also, I found the comment you posted re the politics of black people selling other black people into slavery as an extension of tribal warfare really interesting – and definitely very important to carefully consider. On the one hand, I absolutely 100% understand the concern about presenting this. On the other hand, I do kinda feel that people who take it as a sign that slavery was “not so bad” are people who are going to be looking for those kinds of justifications no matter what. I think what’s important about it is how it *complicates* the narrative of slavery, which I think is very important to disseminate – history is complicated and messy, because people are complicated and messy and life “back then” wasn’t actually simpler than life today. I think people who understand that there is and can never ever ever be any justification for slavery will not have that understanding diluted by knowing that the slave trade was a more complicated (and more global) affair than how it’s generally presented.

    I guess I feel like this is important in the same way as scholarship on slave clothing and material culture that shows slaves participated in the general marketplaces of the American colonies in various ways and even participated in fashion, could have money and indulge in little luxuries. I don’t see this knowledge as undermining how bad slavery was, but rather complicates the lives of slaves, shows they weren’t one-dimensional people who defined themselves solely by their slave status and actually returns agency to them as people who exerted it and made personal decisions where they could, regardless of how circumscribed their lives were.

    I hope I haven’t opened a can of worms here, that wasn’t my intent. I’m just personally very interested in narratives that reclaim the agency of typically/traditionally oppressed peoples (whether exerted for what we think is good or bad ends) for how it enriches and humanizes history.

    1. this Is kinda getting off topic (long time lurker here, frockflicks feel free to delete) but while I do agree with your basic premise, I feel that a nuanced conception of the transatlantic slave trade cannot and should not take place without a detailed analysis and dissection of the notions of settler colonialism and the native American genocide; capitalism; the law of property and the notion of possession; the creation of the concept of ‘race’ – the ‘black race’ and the ‘white race’ and all that that entails; racism (specifically antiblackness) and its intersection with sexism; the elasticity of the concept whiteness and all the reasons for that elasticity… etc. I could go on.

      Suffice to say, I – as a black woman in academia – remain wholly unconvinced that any attempt by white academics to do so will be useful or even accurate. This is because they largely do not see themselves as the benefactors of a physically, sexually and economically violent inheritance, they remove themselves from the narrative and refuse to see themselves reflected in the perpetrators of the worst crimes in American history.

      Further, it is inaccurate and ahistorical to attempt to place the transatlantic slave trade in a ‘global slavery’ context, because chattel slavery in the US (and the WI) was racialized and sexualised (etc. etc., see above) in a way that is unique to that time and place.

      I will add, however, that it is important to note the so-called ‘agency’ that these enslaved Africans were permitted to have, because it demonstrates the barbaric and paradoxical nature of slavery was in the US — you are owned, and yet you are permitted to own some items; you are a beast, and a degenerate, yet still sexually desired by your master; you are ugly, but still allowed to adorn yourself and be displayed with pride by your owner… on and on ad infinitum. This is simply another demonstration of how such a terrible system could be maintained and the cruel, psychological ingenuity of the white men and women who perpetuated it. Black people have not seen and do not see our lives as one-dimensional, and if anybody is to confront this belief, it is white academia in particular, and non-black people in general.

      In conclusion, any ‘reclamation of “agency”‘ and ‘complication of chattel slavery’ narrative must as far as possible, be written only by black people; any non-black person seeking to expound upon these narratives must honestly and unflinchingly examine their motives for doing so, and consider for whom they are writing and the implications of it.

      Also, another show to watch about the complex nature of the lives of the enslaved in America is Underground on WGN. I tend to shy away from such shows (I haven’t watched the new Roots), but this show is gr8. The costumes are baddd tho lol, as are some of the accents, but the story is compelling (if some of the dialogue clunky) enough for me not to care.

      1. I agree with most of your points, when it comes to academic writing. But what about popular culture (literature, TV, etc.)? How should discussions of slavery engage the common person? Because as you probably know, most academic research doesn’t filter out beyond the academy. (Hello, fellow academic here!)

        And, wasn’t the original book of Roots written by an African American, and isn’t this production largely one created by African Americans?

        But yes, if there’s one thing Ethnic Studies classes taught me, it’s that nobody should speak for anyone else.

        1. Hey! Yeah, I get what you’re saying. Academic research doesn’t reach the average person.

          But any black person who has critical opinions on media will know these concepts that white people have to go to university to learn. Because you just learn these things growing up. So while a non-academic person may not know what I mean by ‘the elasticity of whiteness as a concept’ they will know what I mean if I say ‘so and so is white, but he aint WHITE-white’ – for example

          The thing I learned when I went to uni is that the stuff you learn in your ‘human rights and racial discrimination class’ is the shit you learnt at the age of 5 or 11 or 16 as a black girl, and the professor is dropping this knowledge as if he is elucidating some Profound Truths and you’re just looking around like ‘lmao is he kidding me with this shit?’ The academic research WRT black people and the ‘speaky-spokey’ vocab of academia is usually just a high class way to talk about stuff that black people have already known…

          Discussions of slavery can definitely engage the common person – if what you’re asking is ‘can they engage the common non-black person’, there are ways to bring up the concepts I mentioned in less academic ways.

          And I was only talking about this WRT the comment of brocadegoddess.

          And I just want to clarify that ‘not speaking over someone’ never means ‘not having opinions on something’ or ‘not being allowed to speak on something because you’re not 100% expert in it’ or ‘you should agree with people out of guilt that you have a Wrong Opinion (TM) and people will yell at you’

          I am only suggesting certain things that non-black people might want to bear in mind if they are truly desirous of not repeating the same mistakes non-black people continually make when writing about black people and our experiences (this is again WRT to Brocadegoddess’ comment, not the concept of black people writing ‘Roots’.)

          if ya feel me lol

  10. In conclusion, any ‘reclamation of “agency”‘ and ‘complication of chattel slavery’ narrative must as far as possible, be written only by black people; any non-black person seeking to expound upon these narratives must honestly and unflinchingly examine their motives for doing so, and consider for whom they are writing and the implications of it.

    Are you saying that any form of writing for a particular “group” should be written only from the perspective of that particular group?

    1. Hey! Nope, I am not saying that at all. I said – in regards to the enslavement of black Africans – that *as far as possible* any ‘complications of the narrative’ must be written by black people. I also said “any non-black person seeking to expound upon these narratives must honestly and unflinchingly examine their motives for doing so, and consider for whom they are writing and the implications of it.”

      Perhaps what I mean can be explained by another example. For instance, if an Englishman is seeking to write about the second class status of English women in, say, the early 19th C, then he should ‘honestly and unflinchingly examine his motives for doing so’.

      This is not to say that he should not write the book.

      He should just be aware that when men tend to write about these women, they overlook certain things that most women would be starkly aware of (for example; menstruation, the frustration of not being taken seriously, sexualised harassment, performing femininity etc. etc.) He should be aware that his perspective is limited because of being a man, and not having to take into account things that women would have had to, and still have to today.

      He should also be aware that male historians have had an unfortunate tendency to attempt to absolve themselves of responsibility of perpetuating the same systems that kept these historical women down. Has Mr. Historian asked himself – why was he chosen to write the book? Why did he find it comparatively easier to get funding? Does the fact that he wrote it, rather than a woman, lend its conclusions more weight? If so, why? Etc. etc.

      To bring this back to white people writing about slavery – this introspection rarely happens. Rarely have I read a book about slavery written by white people that hasn’t got a huge blind spot, that a black person would be extremely unlikely to have. This is simply because when you are black in a white country there are things you are acutely aware of, that white people mostly aren’t, and it’s rare that white people acknowledge this when writing about black people’s experiences. This isn’t to say they shouldn’t try, but that they should be open to the idea that until they seriously interrogate the unconscious biases they will undoubtedly have as a white person, their analysis and writing will necessarily be shallower.

      Does that answer your question?

  11. Yeah, I think the problem with MOST history is it gets over-simplified. Look at World War II: the Germans were evil, the Allies were noble and out to save the Jewish people… except, the Allies were far more concerned about stopping German expansion than about Jews, and they didn’t go out of their way to stop the Holocaust mid-war (for example, bombing train tracks for concentration camp transport trains). That doesn’t mean the Allies were BAD, it just means that nothing is black & white.

    1. 1. I’m not American
      2. I have been aware of this for some time, it was the inclusion of it in a mainstream media production to which I was referring. Perhaps the fact that I’m not American factors into why it stuck out for me. So, yeah, possible ignorance on my part but possibly not for the reason you may be assuming.

      And really, what Kendra says is essentially the point I was trying to make, albeit perhaps clumsily.

Comments are closed.

Discover more from Frock Flicks

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue Reading