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2016 Tribeca Film Festival - Portrait Studio - Day 8

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Giving up has never been in Kunta Kinte’s blood, and it seems his daughter has taken on his fighting spirit in Part 2 of Roots.

It’s been 10 years since we last saw Kunta, and in that time he was always looking for a way to run away from his plantation. He may have been beaten momentarily, but he was never broken.

Kunta had successfully managed to escape for a short while after killing the overseer.

Something we didn’t know from the last production of Roots is that British soldiers offered Kunta help in escaping his plantation after he offered to fight for their side in the Revolution. He was taken to a camp where he met up with other escaped slaves and Native Americans that had also agreed to fight.

During his first night in the camp, he met another escapee named Carlton and quickly formed a bond with him. When they were sent into battle with nothing more than pikes to battle American rebels armed with guns, he brought Carlton along to help him fight. Sadly, Carlton did not survive the night.

Kunta commandeered a canoe, and made his way up the river overnight. On his way upstream the next morning, he passed another plantation and slaves saw him passing by. They bid him farewell with a negro spiritual, so that overseer wouldn’t be alerted to his presence.

He didn’t make it much farther, though, because when he docked, he ran into a gang of bounty hunters. He was a wanted man who came with a high reward. Before they carted him back to Waller’s plantation, they cut off his foot–as has been requested in his Wanted poster. He was tied to a tree, and everyone knows what was coming next.

Just like with his whipping at the end of the last part, viewers couldn’t look away. Cameras didn’t spare the audience as the bounty hunter’s axe came down on his foot and chopped off his toes.

After a fever dream sequence, Kunta woke up to a beautiful woman named Belle beaming over how happy she was that he was going to make it. Belle, by the way, was wearing a scarf that was the same shade of blue that his people in Juffure wore. All he wanted was to die. He refused her help in healing because he no longer had the desire to survive.

As much as she tried to keep an upbeat demeanor while she tended to his wound, she eventually got fed up with him. And that was enough to set off Fiddler, who had also been brought to Dr. Waller’s plantation. He dragged Kunta out to the horse pen and forced him to get up on his own despite his injury and walk up to the house so that he could apologize to Belle.

Eventually, he and Belle got back on good terms, and she got him as job as Dr. Waller’s driver after he managed to calm an escaped horse. Most people in the animal’s path ran away, but Kunta faced it down, asking him, “Why are you running so fast? All you’ll find is trouble.” Dr. Waller was thoroughly impressed and gave him a promotion. It was now Kunta’s job to cart the doctor to and from all of his appointments.

While driving Dr. Waller back from a house call one afternoon, they came across White people in the town that were celebrating the news that America had won their freedom from Britain. “We’re free,” they shouted joyfully in the streets all while ignoring the fact that the were still enslaving an entire race of people. Well…that’s privilege for you.

Back on the plantation, Kunta’s feelings for Belle began to grow. One day he found himself on her porch with Fiddler, playing a sweet melody as he attempted to propose to Belle. His first shot was a complete mess as he tried to explain why, as a Mandinka warrior, it was his duty to marry and start a family. She slammed the door in his face at his ramblings, so Fiddler suggested that he try again and be a bit more sincere.

Kunta knocked on her door and told her how his heart had been closed ever since he’d come to America. That is until he met her in the infirmary on Dr. Waller’s plantation. “I depended on you, but I did not see you,” he admitted. Before his proposal could go left again, he revealed that over time he saw that she was “a woman like no one [he’d] ever met.” She happily accepted his proposal, and soon the two were married.

It was awkward, and it was sweet, and it was a nice moment that broke up some of the drama thus far in the story. Their wedding was no different.

Many Black couples (then and now) jumped the broom to signify that they were now married because it was a custom from our ancestors. That was news to Kunta, who had never seen any African he knew jump the broom during their weddings. Being a good husband, Kunta did jump the broom to please his new wife. No sooner did they land than the party began as the happy couple and their wedding guests began to dance in celebration.

Unfortunately, they didn’t get to celebrate long. During their reception, Kunta was called away to drive Dr. Waller back to his old plantation so that he could deliver Waller’s new child (who was actually fathered by the doctor).

Kunta also had a baby on the way, and soon he and his new wife welcomed their beautiful baby girl. As with his wedding, Kunta was jarred from his moment of joy while naming his daughter. The new dad brought his old friend Fiddler into the woods for the occasion, and they found themselves surrounded by bounty hunters.

The gang tried to take the little girl as a tax, and it was then that Fiddler sacrificed himself so that Kunta could get away with his daughter. Heartbroken, Kunta stumbled back to the plantation to get his wife and make another run for freedom. She eventually persuaded him to stay because it would be impossible to run with a baby, so they stayed and he named his daughter Kizzy.

As the girl grew up, she formed a friendship with Dr. Waller’s daughter, who taught her how to read. As close as they were, Missy was still a girl who grew up in a system that viewed Kizzy, and people like her, as property. That meant their relationship was always going to be inequitable because it was tainted with that sense of ownership and superiority.

While Missy taught Kizzy how to read, Kunta showed her how to be a warrior. As she became a young woman, she showed her father’s thirst for knowledge and his free spirit. She shared that with a young man named Noah, who she loved.

One night, during a terrible storm, Kizzy encouraged Noah to run away. By her reasoning, there wouldn’t be any bounty hunters on the road and the dogs wouldn’t be able to track his scent for at least the rest of the night. Noah tried to get Kizzy to run with him, but she stayed on the plantation.

The next morning, the overseer went out to capture Noah. They found him hiding in a shed. Even though he’d been cornered, Noah refused to be taken alive; so, he stabbed the overseer (who had been planning to shoot him, despite Dr. Waller’s orders) and made another run for it. He didn’t get far as the rest of the gang that had been sent to find him gunned him down. Before the day was through, there would be another tragedy. Kizzy was ripped from her family for two reasons: 1) For forging a road pass to help Noah escape. 2) Knowing how to read and write.

No sooner had she arrived at the Lea plantation in North Carolina than the master of the farm, Tom Lea, came in and raped her. In his mind, it was his right to take her virginity because he’d paid $600 for her and she was his property.

The assault resulted in a son, who Tom Lea named after his own father, George. In a moment of extreme despair, Kizzy attempted to kill herself and her new son. Before she could drown them both, she felt her ancestors’ presence and cried out for help. And though she hadn’t been taught how to present her son to the universe, she did what both her father, and his father, and generations before her had done by showing her child that there was only one thing greater than himself in all the of the world.

Come back tomorrow for our recap of Roots part 3.


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‘Roots’ Recap-Part 2: Kunta Raises A Warrior Named Kizzy  was originally published on