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Roots is a television miniseries in the USA based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel, Roots: The Saga of an American Family; the series first aired, on ABC-TV, in 1977. Roots received 37 Emmy Award nominations and won nine. It won also a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award. It received unprecedented Nielsen ratings for the finale, which still holds a record as the third highest rated episode for any type of television series, and the second most watched overall series finale in U.S. television history.
It was produced on a budget of $6.6 million. The series introduced LeVar Burton in the role of Kunta Kinte. A sequel, Roots: The Next Generations, first aired in 1979, and a second sequel, Roots: The Gift, a Christmas TV movie, starring Burton and Louis Gossett Jr. first aired in 1988. A related film, Alex Haley's Queen, is based on the life of Queen Jackson Haley, who was Alex Haley's paternal grandmother.
In Gambia, West Africa, in 1750 Kunta Kinte is born to Omoro Kinte (Thalmus Rasulala), a Mandinka warrior, and his wife, Binta (Cicely Tyson). When Kunta (LeVar Burton) reaches the age of 15, he and a group of other adolescent boys take part in tribal manhood training, ending with a ceremony, after which they become recognized as men and Mandinka warriors. While trying to carry out a task to catch a bird and take it home unharmed, Kunta sees white men carrying firearms, along with their black collaborators. Later, while fetching wood outside his village to make a drum for his younger brother, Kunta is captured by black collaborators under the direction of white men.
He is then sold to a slave trader and placed aboard a ship under the command of Capt. Thomas Davies (Edward Asner) for a three-month journey to Colonial America. During the voyage a group of rebels among the human cargo try but fail to stage a mutiny and to take over the ship. The ship eventually arrives in Annapolis, Maryland, where the captured Africans are sold at auction as slaves. John Reynolds (Lorne Greene), a plantation owner from Spotsylvania County, Virginia, near Fredericksburg, buys Kunta and gives him the name Toby. Reynolds assigns an older slave, Fiddler (Louis Gossett Jr.), to teach Kunta to speak English and to train him in the ways of living and working as a chattel slave. Kunta, in a persistent struggle to become free again, makes several unsuccessful attempts to escape.
Additionally, to preserve his Mandinka heritage and maintain his Mandinka roots, he does not want to change his name. An overseer, Ames (Vic Morrow) gathers the slaves and directs one of them to whip Kunta after his latest attempt to escape and to continue whipping him until he finally acknowledges his new name. For events that occur in 1775, between the above period and the post-Revolutionary War, where the next section begins, see Roots: The Gift. The miniseries was watched by an estimated 130 million and 140 million viewers total (more than half of the U.S. 1977 population of 221 million - the largest viewership ever attracted by any type of television series in U.S. history. Eighty-five percent of all television homes saw all or part of the mini-series.