Roots

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Roots Movie Poster Image
Classic miniseries is essential viewing for mature teens.
  • NR
  • 1977
  • 573 minutes

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Through example, this film shows the triumph of human dignity in the face of tremendous suffering and oppression. Courage, perseverance, integrity, and compassion are all major themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kunta Kinte never stops yearning for freedom and never forgets his African heritage. He passes this heritage -- the stories, the folklore, the language -- to his wife and children, who in turn pass it along to future generations. Through skill, charm, and sheer dedication, Chicken George buys his freedom, and his freedom serves as an example to his wife and children, who remain enslaved for much of the miniseries. Through tremendous suffering and dedication, the descendants of Kunta Kinte do their best to maintain their dignity, even as they're forced to act meek and overly polite to their white overseers.

Violence

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.

Sex

In Episode One, the puberty rites of an African tribe are discussed. Brief nonsexual nudity of African tribal women.

Language

Frequent use of the "N" word, both by whites and African-Americans. Other mild profanity throughout includes "dammit," "bitch," and "hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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).

What parents need to know

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Kid, 11 years old August 12, 2016

Sniff...Sniff

The sadness of the migration of African slaves is portrayed in this old film. It is not as dark and graphic as the 2016 Roots so I rated it 10 and up
Teen, 16 years old Written byInvalidReviews2017 March 31, 2017

Classic slave trade story is sad and violent.

I watched a few episodes of Roots and got bored, It just didn't appeal to me. There is slave violence like beatings with whips and some racist terms but no... Continue reading

What's the story?

In the mid-18th century, Kunta Kinte (Levar Burton) is a 15-year-old living in West Africa, on the verge of manhood and becoming a Mandinka warrior. While leaving his village to find a tree to make a drum, he's kidnapped by trappers, who take him to a slave ship. On the ship, he faces the first of a great many indignities, culminating in being sold to work on a plantation in Virginia. ROOTS chronicles Kinte's life, as well as the lives of his children and grandchildren, for the next 130 years, as they live under the brutal oppression and misery of slavery and all the racism that slavery engenders. And yet, through all the horrors that Kinte's descendants experience, they never forget where they came from, who they are, and what freedom means, with Kinte's daughter Kizzy passing this down to her son, Chicken George (Ben Vereen), who in turn passes the message of freedom and tradition to his children.

Is it any good?

This iconic miniseries brings American history to life in ways that history textbooks so often fail to do. The horror, degradation, and violence of slavery are brought into painfully clear focus, so viewers experience the pain that Alex Haley's ancestors felt. By doing so, it becomes the pain of a nation, the reverberations of which we still feel to this day. But, beyond all this brutality, Roots offers hope in the form of an indomitable human spirit, passed from generation to generation, as the story of a people who never forgot their African home and whose culture somehow transcends so much suffering.

For families curious about where we were and how we got here, Roots is essential viewing. It was a best-selling book and a highly regarded miniseries when it was first broadcast in 1977, and it has stood the test of time. This miniseries should still inspire discussion among families about history, genealogy, and the society in which we live.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the violence, horror, and degradation of slavery was presented in Roots. Was it too much or not enough?

  • Do you think the violence and profanity shown and spoken here was necessary to showing the realities of slavery? Why, or why not? Does the fact that the violence is in a historical context make it more (or less) tolerable?

  • In what ways did Roots bring history to life for you? Why is it important to learn about the past? 

  • How do the characters in Roots demonstrate courage and perseverance? What about compassion and integrity? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love African-American stories

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate