Queen vs. Roots: The Next Generation

I’ve been watching Alex Haley’s Queen (1993), followed by his Roots: The Next Generation (1979), which also has Queen. Queen was the mother of Simon Haley, who was the dad of Alex Haley. She was the daughter of a mulatto slave and a white slave-master. In the 1979 miniseries, Queen was played by Ruby Dee. And in the 1993 miniseries, she was played by Halle Berry. This was one of Berry’s first major roles.

I have a few questions about Queen in these miniseries. I doubt that a lot of people have my obsessions, but maybe someone will stumble on this post and satisfy my curiosity. Here they are:

1. In Roots: The Next Generation, Queen tells a story over and over. It goes like this: When she was younger, she went to the store, and the shopkeeper, Abby Baithwaite, couldn’t see too well. Queen was there with another black woman, and Abby offered to serve Queen first, since she thought Queen was white. But Queen told her that she was black too, and the woman assumed that Queen was sassing her. The next thing Queen knew, she was being pursued through the forest by dogs! She ran fifteen miles, until she found a home in an African-American community.

I found something similar in an old Washington Post article (see here), which states the following:

“And, as Haley listed his various projects–a miniseries on Queen, a series of interviews with black filmmakers, the long-awaited story of Henning–once again you knew something of magnitude was brewing. ‘Queen was born near Florence, Alabama, on a plantation called the Forks of Cypress,’ he said. ‘Her father was the master and her mother a mulatto weaver. She was raised as the servant of her half-sisters. She was what they called `a child of the plantation.”’ After the Civil War, Queen was freed and was chased into a forest. ‘There she joined three couples, and this was the first time she had ever confronted what being black was. I just can’t wait to write that scene.'”

But, in the actual Queen miniseries, that’s not exactly what we see. Rather, Queen goes to the store and sasses a lady named Henderson. The argument is over Henderson’s high prices, not Queen being served before another black woman (who’s not even in the scene). The men there then accuse Queen of being sassy, and they chase her through the woods, presumably to rape her. She arrives at the plantation the next morning, and she shortly leaves after an argument with her father’s wife (who hates Queen, since she reminds her of her husband’s mulatto mistress). Queen’s not exactly chased by dogs then, and she doesn’t find acceptance within a black community or with three black couples. Actually, she doesn’t fit in anywhere, since both blacks and whites reject her as an outsider. Plus, she has quite an adventure before she’s finally embraced in a black church!

The wikipedia article on the book is quite detailed, and it presents the book as being similar to the miniseries, at least in an overall sense (see here). So what gives? Which was right? Roots: The Next Generation, or Queen? I have problems with discontinuity! I was having such a high of inspiration after seeing Queen–with its music, its plot, etc. Then, this bump in the road ruins it all! Can someone help me out?

2. In Queen, Queen works for a nice man named Mr. Cherry, who owns a plantation. Mr. Cherry treats Queen and her husband with respect, and he pays for her son Abner to travel. He even encourages Queen’s husband, Alec, to let Simon go to school.

In Roots: The Next Generation, there is a man named Mr. Perry. Mr. Perry thinks blacks shouldn’t go to school but should work on the farm. And he’s obviously pretty prominent in the area. Alec works for him as a sharecropper, as do a lot of people. I can’t see him helping anybody! But are Mr. Perry and Mr. Cherry supposed to be the same guy?

There was overlap between the two miniseries. Queen says in both that she wants to “waste” one of her children, which means allowing Simon to pursue his dreams and get his education rather than helping out on the farm. And Danny Glover and Hal Williams overlap somewhat in their portrayal of Simon Haley’s father, Alec: both aren’t too enthusiastic about their son getting all this schooling, but they’re still willing to help out. But the discrepancies between the miniseries perplex me!

Advertisements

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
This entry was posted in Books, Race, Roots, Television. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Queen vs. Roots: The Next Generation

  1. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Does this page on Wikipedia help? Queen: The Story of an American Family

    Like

  2. James Pate says:

    Actually, I link to it in the post, but it was behind the word “here.” It’s helpful in the sense that it provides a fairly comprehensive survey of the book. Of course, the wikipedia authorities don’t like that, because they don’t want people to regurgitate the plot. But I’m not sure if I want to go through the entire 700 pages–but, who knows? I may check out the book on tape.

    Like

  3. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Sorry. I was half-afraid I might have been telling you something you already knew — and it turns out I did.

    Like

  4. James Pate says:

    No problem, Stephen–Thanks for trying to help.

    Like

  5. Nikki says:

    Greetings, your obsession is definitely my obsession. Your questions my question. Like in 1939 Roots: The Next Generations Simon tells his 2 younger sons, “Your grandma is over 90 she’s forgotten more than they’ll ever remember.” Which would have been a better statement, “Your grandma’s almost 100” cause in Queen her date of birth is listed as “4-8-41” so in 1939 that would make her 98. Little details like that should be stated. The mini-series Queen should’ve expanded her life till the end. What do you think?

    Like

Comments are closed.