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Roots - Middle Passage

by Matt Delmont

The Middle Passage scene in Roots was crucial to depicting the transition between freedom in Africa and slavery in the new world. In a warehouse on the outskirts of Savannah, production designer Jan Scott and her team designed and built the set for the first televised representation of the Middle Passage. The human component of the Middle Passage scene was more complicated. LeVar Burton and Ji-Tu Cumbuka, who played a character called the Wrestler, were the only Hollywood actors in the cargo hold for the Middle Passage scene. All of the other enslaved characters were young black extras recruited from Savannah. In the Washington Post, Sander Vanocur singled out the Middle Passage scene in praising Roots. “The scenes on the ship, with the slaves chained together, stacked alongside one another, lying in their vomit and excrement, . . . are something we have never seen before,” Vanocur wrote. “We have read about slavery. But we have never seen it, never in such painstaking detail and never being experienced with such excruciating pain.”

Roots - Middle Passage

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Part of the Middle Passage scene in Roots

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