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Roots - Kizzy and Missy Anne

by Matt Delmont

Leslie Uggams, who played Kizzy, had the largest and most demanding role. Whereas LeVar Burton and John Amos shared the role of Kunta Kinte, the producers used makeup and state-of-the-art prosthetics to allow the thirty-three-year-old Uggams to play Kizzy from a teenager into her seventies. Uggams also had to portray a wider range of emotions than any other character. Over the course of three episodes, Kizzy learns the family history from her father, Kunta; is sold away and separated from her family; is raped by her new master, Tom Lea; gives birth to the son produced by this rape, Chicken George; and becomes the matriarch for a community of enslaved people. Uggams’s best scenes come opposite Sandy Duncan, who played Missy Anne Reynolds, the niece of Dr. William Reynolds, who owned Kizzy and Kunta. In one scene, Kizzy helps Missy Anne select clothes for dinner and Missy Anne confides in Kizzy about her romantic involvement with a distant cousin. The characters talk almost as friends, and viewers learn that Missy Anne taught Kizzy to read, a secret they need to keep from Dr. Reynolds. Moments later, over a picnic in a meadow, Missy Anne tells Kizzy that her uncle is planning to gift Kizzy to her. Producer Stan Margulies described this episode as the “one out-and-out woman’s show in the series,” and as in a melodramatic soap opera, this scene works because Uggams and Duncan wring additional emotion and meaning out of the script. Duncan is upbeat as she delivers her lines, giggling and smiling while explaining the naturalness of slavery and patriarchy. Uggams’s face registers confusion, but also a sort of wiliness as Kizzy draws Missy Anne out. Missy Anne is repeating rationales for slavery that outlived the peculiar institution and propped up romantic visions of plantation life. Roots undermines these views by pushing the idea of childhood friendship between slaves and masters to a ludicrous extreme.

Roots - Kizzy and Missy Anne

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Roots scene with Kizzy (Leslie Uggams) talking to Missy Anne (Sandy Duncan)

from Roots (1977)
Creator: ABC/David Wolper Productions
Distributor: ABC
Posted by Matt Delmont