Kunta Kinteh Island and the Alex Haley Museum
Hollywood by Choice
With all this talk about slavery and “Django: Unchained” we bring into focus writer Alex Haley, the man who dared to write a groundbreaking novel about his ancestors entitled “Roots.”
“Roots,” which originally aired in 1977 on the ABC Network, literally captured the heart and imagination of America and the world. Never before had anything focusing on the subject of slavery ever graced the airwaves with such power and authority as this mini-series.
Kunta Kinte became a familiar name to everyone, and Alex Haley was the rock star writer of the age.
Kinte is the African ancestor of Alex Haley, who also brought us “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”.
The book and the miniseries traces Kunta Kinte’s heartbreaking capture, perilous journey to the White man’s land and his “negrolization” (“Your name is Toby”) in America.
But Kunta Kinte was wise enough to never forget his roots and he passed the knowledge of his history on to his children, and his children’s children. And Haley’s writings put into the heart of many African Americans the desire to know their roots and the ancestors that preceded them.
Are Alex Haley’s contributions and his legacy slipping into the dusty pages of what’s known as African American history?
I ask that question because a museum set up in his honor in Henning, Tenn., his boyhood home, is struggling to survive. With very little money coming from the state in support of the facility, the museum must rely on contributions and, dare I say, star power.
I’m willing to bet that the many Black actors and actresses who gained notoriety through “Roots,” the story of Haley’s ancestors, such as LeVar Burton and John Amos, among others, may not even know the museum exists. Even Spike Lee, whose film “Malcolm X” was based on the Haley’s work, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” and starred Denzel Washington, has never darkened the museum’s doorway or sent a note or an item of memorabilia to the museum.
The Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center are educational facilities dedicated to the collection, preservation, interpretation, and exhibition of artifacts. The museum’s comprehensive collections represent Haley’s life and achievements. It also promotes the understanding and appreciation of history by presenting a range of exhibitions, programs, and events for the community and the world.
Maybe there is hope. I recently received an email from my editor about a new documentary, “Kunta Kinteh Island: Coming Home Without Shackles,” that is screening across the country, but not yet in L.A., and I don’t see a schedule for Henning, Tenn., where the museum is located. Hopefully that will change.
Making his directorial debut, Elvin Ross, is also the executive producer and composer of the film. His film serves a dual purpose, he says. The film was made to educate a new generation of Americans about the legendary Mandinka warrior Kunta Kinte, and as a philanthropic effort to raise funds for the Albreda Jeffereh Primary School in Kunta Kinte’s impoverished Gambian village.
The documentary traces the life of Kunta Kinte, and shares with viewers a side of the Kunta Kinte legacy we didn’t know. It focuses on his lasting family legacy through profiles of his relatives in the village of Juffereh, Gambia, West Africa, today. And it shares his recent symbolic return to the point of his captivity—James Island in Gambia—which was formally renamed Kunta Kinteh Island on Feb. 6, 2011.
Visit www.elvinross.com for more details of the film and its screening schedule.
And while you’re at it, visit Alex Haley Museum’s website, keeping in mind, this is the man who started it all. Go to www.alexhaleymuseum.com. In the meantime, I’m going to track down the celebrity who’s who list and let them know about a wonderful opportunity to help preserve Alex Haley’s wonderful legacy.
Gail can be reached at email@example.com
Score one for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic Hope, for their very emotional outcry about the so-called “Django Unchained” slave dolls. On Friday, Jan. 18, the Weinstein Co. announced that it has asked toy maker NECA to discontinue the “Django Unchained” action figure dolls after receiving complaints that the dolls were offensive and trivialized the horrors of slavery.
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And on the little screen, Don Cheadle walked away with the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in Showtime’s “House of Lies.”
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Fueled by mistrust of a system that often views Black people as nothing more than guinea pigs ripe for experimentation, accepting the label “mentally ill” comes with a huge stigma.
As June 19 comes closer and conversations about celebrating the day that the last Africans in America received word of their emancipation from chattel slavery drew nearer, there are those folks who might wonder or even verbalize a familiar sentiment—“slavery was way back then; it has nothing to do with me today. Why should I go to such a celebration. It’s just old timey stuff.”
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Media mogul Cathy Hughes made headlines recently when she gave her honest opinion about the roles Black women have portrayed in films that have garnered them Oscars, namely Halle Berry for the 2001 film “Monster’s Ball” and Mo’Nique for the 2009 film “Precious.” Both played rather unsavory characters who shocked and dismayed some moviegoers. But their outstanding performances thrust them into American film history.