Madge Sinclair rooted in film
John Amos and Madge Sinclair in scene from Roots.

FOR two weeks in early 1977, Jamaicans rushed home and tuned into the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) to watch Roots, a powerful mini-series that is arguably the most successful programme in American television history.

Based on American author Alex Haley's book of the same title, Roots celebrated its 45th anniversary last January. The eight-part drama aired at the height of the black power movement in Jamaica.

It had an ensemble cast whose performances won a global audience and earned the series a record number of awards and nominations.

Among the nominees were Jamaican Madge Sinclair, who got an Emmy nod for her portrayal of Belle, wife to Kunta Kinte (John Amos) and mother of Kizzy (Leslie Uggams).

Born in Kingston and raised in St Ann, Sinclair migrated to the United States in 1968 and began acting full-time. Roots was her breakthrough role.

She had become frustrated at the limited, stereotypical roles offered to blacks. She commented on this in a 1977 interview with People magazine.

"If you're tall and thin and not too bad looking, you're usually a prostitute. If you're fat, you play mothers, and if you're ugly, you play maids. At least Roots has given us another alternative — slaves," she said.

In 1977, the JBC's television programming was dominated by American shows such as The Six Million Dollar Man and Charlie's Angels. Blacks were visible in comedies like Roll Out and Sanford and Son.

Roots changed that. Through Haley's powerful tale, many Jamaicans were introduced to Uggams (Kizzy), Ben Vereen (Chicken George), and LeVar Burton (young Kunta Kinte).

Madge Sinclair, whose future credits included the movie Coming to America and the hit television series Trapper John MD, died in 1995 at age 57.

Madge Sinclair
Howard Campbell

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