When I was 7 or 8, I remember seeing parts of the first one from my attic bedroom with my sister, peeking down the staircase after we were supposed to be in bed (and I remember getting caught, after which they moved the TV and made it harder, but we could still watch it). Turns out my memory wasn’t that good, but it was enough for me to (finally) get the DVDs from the library and watch both of them (28 hours, I think?) over the last few weeks (no, I do not have a life, thanks for asking).
Some of it could have used some editing. Some of it was obviously cleaned up for a mainstream television audience (and in the 70s, when they were stricter than they are now). But – wow. Most of the acting is incredible. Some if it – even cleaned up, and cut away at the last second, and condensed – is so painful to watch, and listen to. I can build up a head of righteous indignation for the unfairness of someone cutting in line at the grocery store, so watching human beings treated like cattle, and pets, and half-wits, and contagious diseases for fully half of all the scenes they showed… well, that was hard to take. My chest would fill up and I’d be choking on all the things that no one was saying. But I have to say… I’m so jealous of Alex Haley.
The effort that his family put in to making sure that they stayed together, and knew where they came from, who they were. Seven generations – from a man stolen from everything he knew and taken half-way around the world. Brought to a place where no one spoke his language and they beat him for believing he was fully human. But his four-greats-grandson was able to find the village he had been stolen from, and cousins who still lived there. I can’t even go back three generations and have names for everyone. I know a few tiny facts about that generation, and nothing from before that. Neither of my parents seemed to give a hoot about any of it. And then they moved away from their entire family, on both sides, and put as many miles and silences between us as they could and still be in the same country. So I sit out here, like a rock thrown into the ocean. And I wonder which mountain I fell off of, because I didn’t grow here. I came from something else, somewhere else. And I wish I was on bedrock, not this sandy soil. Alex Haley’s family was bought and sold and beaten and cheated and raped and cheated again – but they always had each other, and they even had a name and a few words from Africa.