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Could there be a worthy follow-up to the most-watched miniseries ever? "We felt the other did so well," Alex Haley said, "that we should just let it hang there." But Haley began carrying around a tape recorder, dictating more of his family's tales as they came to his memory. Those remembrances filled a 1,000-page transcript: raw material for Roots: The Next Generations. Winner of the Emmy for Best Limited Series, this landmark continuation of a landmark event - with 53 stars and 235 speaking parts - "is in many respects a superior achievement," Newsweek said in comparing this to Roots. Twenty-five years later, it has lost none of its dramatic and emotional power to make us confront history and examine ourselves. One man's family remains everyone's!
Roots rocked the cultural landscape in the late '70s, creating a new wave of awareness of black history. That wave opened the door for its sequel, Roots: The Next Generations, even more of a star-studded event than the original, with stars like Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda, Marlon Brando, and James Earl Jones eager to partake in the tale. The sequel follows the rest of the saga of the family of author Alex Haley, from where Roots ended at the Civil War, up to the 1970s when Haley was researching and writing his earth-shattering family story.
While nothing can rival the power of the original Roots' unflinching look at the slave trade and slave life in the early years of this country, the sequel is still full of rich African American history, from Reconstruction, to Jim Crow, to the civil rights movement and the early rumblings of black power. Fonda and de Havilland are respectable in their period-piece roles, but the real power of this sequel is in the more immediate concerns of Haley and his own experience of prejudice while building a stellar reputation as a writer and journalist in the '60s and '70s. One of the most unsettling scenes takes place then, when Haley interviews the head of the American Nazi Party, played with chilling diffidence by Brando. Brando won an Emmy for this performance. Haley is also challenged by his fractious interview with Malcolm X a gripping Al Freeman Jr.. Jones launches his acting career playing Haley with nuance and heart, but with a humanizing set of his own demons.
The four-disc set includes all seven episodes plus a compelling documentary, Roots: The Next Generations--The Legacy Continues, with interviews with Jones, costar and episode director Georg Stanford Brown and a still starry-eyed David L. Wolper, who understands the cultural impact of the two miniseries he helped bring to the screen. --A.T. Hurley