ABC had such low expectations for a 1977 project that they decided to air all eight episodes on consecutive nights to put it on the sidelines.
To his surprise, “Roots” became one of the most watched TV shows of all time.
You can’t help but think about this miniseries while watching “Women in Motion,” which premieres Thursday on ABC. Despite the topic – how the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till influenced the civil rights movement – “Movement” is not as memorable as the small screen adaptation of Alex Haley’s bestselling novel, “Roots. : the saga of an American Family. ” But at least network television is trying.
“Roots” made the miniseries a TV staple, but most of the successes that followed, like “Winds of War”, “Shogun” and “The Thorn Birds”, were more interested in involving big stars. in soap operas only to awaken a social conscience. Only the 1978 “Holocaust” matched “Roots” in its ambition.
ABC therefore deserves credit for filming three prime-time nights on “Movement” as well as its accompanying track, “Let the World See”, produced by the network’s news service.
These two new projects look at tragedy through the eyes of Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, played in “Movement” by Tony winner Adrienne Warren.
In the first episode, we get a sense of his close relationship with his only son, played by Cedric Joe, who can’t wait to travel from his home in Chicago, Mississippi where he can fish and see the stars better.
But a cheeky exchange with a white store clerk in the Jim Crow South changes everything. His ensuing murder – and Mom’s decision to have a casket open for everyone to see how much they disfigured Emmett – rocked the world.
The producers, including Will Smith and Jay-Z, do a good job telling the whole story, including the trial of the suspects.
Too often, stories like these are told through the eyes of “white saviors”. Think “Burning Mississippi” and “Kill a Mockingbird”. “Movement” could have easily taken the same path by giving the majority of the screen time to the die-hard District Attorney (Gil Bellows) or one of the white journalists bent on uncovering the truth. This time, they are satellite characters. The focus is on Till-Mobely as well as top civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Ruby Hurley and Roy Wilkins.
The production also avoids casting celebrities who could have been a distraction. The only exception: Oscar winner Timothy Hutton, who is formidable as a smug attorney defending the accused.
If only “Movement” didn’t rely so much on a dialogue of sap. Too often, the characters engage in monologues that resemble sermons.
“I’ve spent my whole life looking down, only looking up to talk to God,” says Emmett’s great-uncle, played by Glynn Turman. “But I think the sky is too beautiful not to look up.”
It’s a poetic reading of an exceptional actor – and totally unrealistic.
For a more grounded approach, stick around for the docuseries, which air after each two-hour episode of “Movement.” The testimonies of Till’s descendants are more powerful than any preaching in the miniseries. The moment academic Michael Eric Dyson visits the bridge where racists threw Emmett’s body into the river is more emotional than any scripted piece of television you’ll see this year.
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