Some are glad miniseries takes on social issues

February 17, 1993|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff Writer

The ratings have been good so far.

Better than good.

But review by the people who are paid to view television movies with a critical eye have been mixed.

"Queen," the three-part miniseries based on the life of author Alex Haley's paternal grandmother, and airing this week on CBS, has been called everything from epic to simplistic. But whatever it's being called, people, including Haley's family, are definitely talking about it.

"It is not a research piece. It is not a drama, but it wasn't intended to be," said Sylvia Cooke Martin, founder of the central Maryland chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society. "I found it difficult to look at with any

objectivity simply because I'm an African American."

Mrs. Cooke Martin said she didn't find Sunday night's first segment to be any more simplistic than the rest of what appears on television.

"Most television is simplistic," she said. "All you can do in six hours is be simplistic. Even the news is condensed.

"[Queen] spoke to a social issue. It's not in depth, but it did speak to the issue of nurturing relationships, that of a mother and daughter and grandfather," she added.

Mrs. Cooke Martin said she had the pleasure of being with Alex Haley just days before his death last February. She admitted that much of what she feels about the miniseries is a reflection of what she felt for Mr. Haley.

"Maybe ["Queen"] is not everything or all that people want," she said. "But I would say that we have to begin somewhere.

"Like Alex said, we have to be thankful for the seed. Then, we have to water it," she added.

Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden said he enjoyed the first installment of "Queen" and was looking forward to the remainder of the miniseries. And, Mr. Snowden added, actress Halle Berry, who stars in the title role, made the movie quite enjoyable to watch.

"People need to remember that television, first and foremost, is in the business of entertainment," he said. "That is why I was able to put the movie 'Malcolm X' in its proper perspective, and that's why I'm able to put 'Queen' in its proper perspective."

While the movie may not deal with all the cruelties of slavery, or show all the facets, Mr. Snowden said, he believed "Queen" was in the same tradition as "Roots," the story of Haley's maternal great-great-grandfather.

"It's good entertainment, and even to some extent educational," he said. "I think it will show how African Americans' and whites' history is interrelated. So much of our history is intertwined."

The Haley family, many of whom live in the Maryland area, said they were very pleased with the portrayal of their family history.

"I thought it was very good," said George Haley, Alex's brother who lives in Montgomery County. "And, to the best of my knowledge it was authentic.

"It shows miscegenation, or an interracial relationship, as it was then. Queen was the product of that relationship, just as many blacks were," he added.

Julius Haley of Silver Spring, another brother, said, "In my opinion, it's kind of an extension to 'Roots.' It helps balance my family's history.

"I have always been rather apprehensive in looking at race relations. I do have mixed emotions. But I appreciate the fact it is happening. I think it does us all good to know about our past," Julius Haley added.

And, Lois Butts, Alex Haley's sister, said she was just "overwhelmed" by "Queen."

"I can remember Queen very faintly," Mrs. Butts said. "I was about 3 or 4 when she died. But I can remember her. And, I can remember her love for me.

"So far, I've just been overwhelmed and humbled by the experience," said Mrs. Butts, who lives in Severn.

Andrea Blackstone, Mrs. Butts' daughter, seldom tells people about her famous uncle, Alex Haley. But the Morgan State University senior said when her creative writing class began VTC discussing the miniseries yesterday, she decided to speak up.

"I think it's going to be a very controversial movie," Ms. Blackstone, 21, said. "Everyone had a different opinion about it.

"Some people didn't like the way the story was portrayed. Some people just didn't like the story. I thought it was good because the subject needs to be brought up," she added.

Ms. Blackstone said she believes it is important to show how a person can be ostracized by both whites and blacks simply because of the color of their skin.

"It did and does exist," she said. "I'm light-skinned and I've gone through problems of being not accepted. It helped me to see someone who went through the same things, only worse.

"Although I'm not sure it's any better now than it was then," she added.

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