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Roots - Kunta Kinte is born

by Matt Delmont

Roots started with a birthing mother’s cry. After months of promotion by ABC, millions of Americans tuned in to watch the opening night of the television adaptation of Alex Haley’s best-selling family story. The first thing television viewers heard and saw after the opening credits was Binta Kinte giving birth to a baby boy. Binta can be heard moaning from inside of a thatched hut in Savannah, Georgia, on a film set designed to stand in for eighteenth-century Gambia. Opening the series with this birthing scene was strategic. Part of the strategy was to foreground some of the series’ prominent actors. Cicely Tyson, who played Binta, was an award-winning actress and, along with Ed Asner, the most famous and highest-paid actor in the cast. (Tyson had enough clout to request and receive a credit for her hairdresser, Omar.) Maya Angelou, an actress and author well known for her biography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (1969), played one of the midwives, while Thalmus Rasulala, recognizable from blaxploitation films and various television roles, played Omoro Kinte. The scene was also was strategic because the producers hoped starting with a birth would help the series appeal to viewers across demographic lines. Haley described a similar motivation for starting his book with Kunta’s birth and childhood. “I hope,” Haley noted, the audience will be “intrigued with a disarming baby—for babies are universal.”

Roots - Kunta Kinte is born

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Scene featuring birth of Kunta Kinte.

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