Showing Roots

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Showing Roots Movie Poster Image
Uneven racial comedy has cursing, slurs, and some sexuality.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 100 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Confronting racism has positive effect. Experiences shared (i.e., discussion, friendship, standing up for others) reveal commonality, set path to respect. Long-standing prejudices are hard to eliminate. Push past fears, self-doubt, and obstacles to see dreams through.

Positive Role Models & Representations

White heroine -- tentative, fearful, meek -- emerges as advocate for herself and others, realizes her strengths, and acts upon them. Black heroine -- feisty, outspoken, unafraid of conflict -- takes steps toward realizing her dreams and moving forward with her life. White Southerners run the spectrum from cruel racist behavior to going along with the crowd, and finally, to supportive folk willing to stand up for human decency. 

Violence

Two women scuffle -- a punch is thrown; a fire starts, menacing a group of people in a salon.

Sex

A couple is seen briefly, partially dressed, having sex. Same couple flirt, with sexual innuendo regarding oral sex. References to masturbation. A naive character uses a hot dog and bun to avoid describing the sexual activity she witnessed.

Language

Some profanity: "s--t," "hell," "crap," "peter," "up yours," "ass," "bastards." Racial slurs: "coloreds," "coons," the "N" word.

Consumerism

Coca-Cola.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many characters smoke. A woman pours whiskey from a flask into her cold drink.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Showing Roots, a Lifetime Television movie, takes place in a small Southern town in 1977, at the same time the original Roots mini-series aired. As the residents of the town of Whynot are amazed nightly by the unfolding story of Alex Haley's family, two young women -- one white, one black -- open a beauty salon and confront both the overt and disguised racism surrounding them. A comedy at its heart, serious issues and messages about standing up to bigotry and striving to achieve one's dreams are incorporated into the light-as-a-feather tale. Expect profanity and racial slurs (i.e., "s--t," "crap," "ass," "bastards," "coons," "coloreds," the "N" word, "honky"), as well as some sexuality (a brief scene in which a couple is seen having sex), and sexual innuendo (regarding masturbation, oral sex). Lots of characters smoke cigarettes in this historical piece; one woman splashes whiskey from a flask into a cold drink. This TV movie first appeared just before the release of the History Channel's award-winning mini-series remake of Roots (2016)

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What's the story?

It's 1977 in SHOWING ROOTS. On the eve of the premier of Roots, a transformative television mini-series, racial tensions are still high in Whynot, a small Southern town. Violet (Maggie Grace) and Pearl (Uzo Aduba) are second-class citizens in Shirley's, the main street beauty salon owned by a mean-spirited bigot (Elizabeth McGovern) -- Violet because she's naive and insecure, and Pearl because she's black. When Shirley fires them both, Pearl, a wannabe college student, encourages Violet to start her own shop. Violet's ready; she's talented; and she's a much better professional than Shirley. Pearl's enthusiasm cannot be ignored, even though the young women have no money, no equipment, no clientele. With little more than their high spirits and a little bit of magic, they make it happen. And clients come to the salon, mostly because Violet and Pearl encourage all of the black women in town to stop wearing wigs, let their own "hair down," and be proud of their heritage. As the townsfolk nightly watch the iconic mini-series, as Violet falls in love with an unexpected town interloper, and as Shirley uses her affair with the local sheriff to disrupt the young women's growing business, tensions escalate. But as Roots goes, so does the town. Eight nights of groundbreaking television, coupled with the growing awareness and actions of Violet and Pearl, make all the difference.

Is it any good?

Improbabilities abound, stereotypes bloom, and fairy tales come true in this lightweight TV-movie, but that might be enough for viewers looking for by-the-numbers, feel-good entertainment. The performances in Showing Roots are uneven at best, with Uzo Aduba and Adam Brody making the most of their underwritten roles, and other notable performers defeated by both the writing and the direction. Earnest in intent, the movie tries to make "bigotry" lighthearted and easily fixable. And the black women who throw down the gauntlet to their white counterparts in this fictionalized city find their inner voices in the blink of an eye. Cecily Tyson, a wonder as Kizzy in the original mini-series, appears here just so she can ironically throw her wig into the river and reclaim her true heritage. It's a shame that the filmmakers opted to include a brief but obvious sexual encounter, and several barely-veiled references to oral sex and masturbation, because younger teens might have enjoyed the story. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about ways in which filmed entertainment has the potential to change attitudes and beliefs held by audiences. The eight-night airing in 1977 of Roots, a network mini-series, is considered a landmark in racial politics and inspired Showing Roots. What movies or programs have you watched that have had a positive effect on your development? How have you changed as a result?

  • Stereotyped characters tend to be simplistic and one-dimensional, often to make a point. How are both Bud (Violet's romantic partner) and Shirley (the owner of the beauty shop) movie stereotypes? Why are more complex characters, who don't always behave in expected ways, more vibrant and interesting to audiences?

  • Pearl talks about white privilege in Showing Roots, which is set in 1977. The notion is still an ongoing issue. Do you agree with the concept?  If you agree, how is it demonstrated in today's world?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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