This manipulative mixture of familiar elements from Roots and similar dramas is what you might call a six-handkerchief movie.
It does go on a long time, but a lot of it works very well, even if you resent director Steven Spielberg, in his first big Oscar try, allowing you to see him pull the strings while you sit there trying to restrain a tear.
Whoopi Goldberg gives a moving performance as the girl who goes through more trials and perils than a silent serial heroine (Desreta Jackson, who plays the younger Whoopi, is also very good).
Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover and Larry Fishburne make early marks too, and the film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards.
When it came to the ceremonies, though, the Academy saw right through Spielberg's intentions, and didn't give it one.