Sensor Scan: Roots

Chalk this one up as another “we’re covering it because there’s no way to *not* cover it” kind of entry.

Roots needs no introduction, least of all from me. Based on the novel of the same name, Roots is a fictionalized and dramatized version of writer Alex Haley’s attempt to trace his genealogy back across multiple generations to one man in Africa taken from his home and made into a slave. It was one of the most groundbreaking and influential television series of all time, capturing the imagination of an entire country through television in one of the last moments it was possible to do that, solidifying the miniseries as viable format for dramatic storytelling and making African history and heritage a central mainstream concern for one of the first times in modern history.

For my purposes, of course, the most obvious and superficial reason to tackle this show in the context of Vaka Rangi is because it introduces an up-and-coming young actor by the name of LeVar Burton in the pivotal role of Young Kunta Kinte, who will go on to play a rather significant role in the evolving history of Star Trek and the entertainment industry at large, not to mention my own life. Knowing what LeVar Burton will eventually go on to do, it’s hard not to let that completely overshadow the rest of the series, but, perhaps surprisingly for someone coming to this show from a contemporary perspective on the basis of its reputation alone, he’s only actually in it for two of the show’s eight episodes. That said, they are two of the most important, as they depict the defining moments of Kunta Kinte’s life: Namely, being abducted from his home in a Mandinka village by a slave trader, brought to the United States, sold into slavery and being tortured until he accepts his new assigned name of Toby. However, while these may be the most iconic moments of the show and while Burton’s performance is predictably heartfelt, powerful, tragic and instantly memorable (which is all the more impressive given this was his first professional acting gig), this is not actually what the majority of Roots is about.

Because of this, and hastily acknowledging that Roots is the beginning and a major part of LeVar’s legacy, I sort of want to leave him for the most part out of my analysis here. His presence will definitely be felt, welcomed and embraced-LeVar Burton is a person and a theme who will inspire and guide this project from this point onwards, but in the context of what Roots in particular can tell us about the television climate of 1977 and the Star Trek franchise more generally (aside from the screaming obvious, that is), his career trajectory is actually a secondary motif. Anyway, I tend to be of the belief the most revealing erudition we can discern about what LeVar Burton brings to Star Trek can be found in that other little show he was involved in for a time, but we’ve got a few more years on either end to get through before we can look at that one just yet.…

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