In another example of White Privilege run amuck, Director Quentin Tarantino put the 1977 TV film “Roots” in his crosshairs for not being an accurate depiction of slavery.
“Hollywood didn’t want to deal with it because it was too ugly and too messy,” Tarantino recently told The Daily Beast. He is making the claim to underline how “real” his upcoming film “Django Unchained,” will be in comparison. “But how can you ignore such a huge part of American history when telling a story in that time period? It made no sense. When you look at ‘Roots,’ nothing about it rings true in the storytelling, and none of the performances ring true for me either…I couldn’t get over how oversimplified they made everything about that time. It didn’t move me because it claimed to be something it wasn’t.”
“Roots” was based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alex Haley, “Roots: The Sage Of An American Family,” which has been both praised as a landmark piece of American literature and derided for inconsistencies in the narrative. Harvard Professor Dr. Henry Louise Gates, Jr. has acknowledged the doubts surrounding Haley’s ancestral claims telling The Boston Globe, ”Most of us feel it’s highly unlikely that Alex actually found the village whence his ancestors sprang. Roots is a work of the imagination rather than strict historical scholarship.”
The 12-hour, eight-episode miniseries based on the book was seen by an estimated 130 million viewers when it was broadcast on ABC television in 1977. Tarantino, along with producer Reginald Hudlin, is claiming that it didn’t scratch the surface of the realities of slavery by calling it “Bullsh–.”
However, given the historic context of entertainment in this country could a first time depiction of slavery on television in the ’70s really portray the atrocities of the slave trade? Would they really show Chicken George beating his white master on television if it was even in the script? This attack on “Roots” feels opportunistic and disingenuous.
While film and television should never serve as substitutes for actual research and education about a subject, it is troubling that Tarantino is attempting to position himself as an authority on slavery by denouncing one of the few nationally televised works that has broached the subject in over thirty years. However flawed “Roots” may be, there is nothing in Tarantino’s resume that future generations can look back to and hold up as scholarly treatise on any topic except maybe racism, rape and bondage.
Positioning “Django” as being more authentic by saying “Roots” pulled punches is like Beanie Sigel calling out Melle Mel for not offering a more graphic depiction of inner city life in “The Message.”
Jay-Z has built a stadium full of seats Tarantino needs to have…
As for Mr. Hudlin’s blind co-sign and condemnation of “Roots,” he should tread lightly considering that this entire plot is little more than a warmed over version of the “Catcher Freeman” episodes of “The Boondocks” that he Executive Produced (hat tip to Mr. Jeter for making this connection).
Lastly, the both of them need to stop playing both sides of the fence, pushing off criticism of this film by arguing that it’s not historically based, but then holding it up as an example for its authenticity.
When it comes to discussing the historical relevance of “Django” –in Hollywood or otherwise–the “D” isn’t the only thing that should be silent, the Q should be, too.