Animation has always been a subversive medium, with many of the popular animated shows repeatedly referred to as satirical masterpieces. Ranging from The Simpsons (only the early era) and South Park, these shows have sparked the imaginations of children and adults alike. In this extensive body of work, there is one particular show which is criminally neglected and that is The Boondocks.
Built upon the iconic comic strip created by the visionary genius Aaron McGruder, The Boondocks is an endlessly entertaining and extremely powerful commentary on the condition of the Black community in modern America. In an age where the debate around representation has become so important, The Boondocks is the perfect example of how marginalised communities can be represented in a way that criticises the completely corrupt systems while conducting a self-reflexive examination.
“Jesus was Black, Ronald Reagan was the devil, and the government is lying about 9/11,” this is how The Boondocks begins and I don’t think anyone who has seen the show can ever forget that or moments like that where McGruder transcends the domain of comedy and starts constructing political poetry. For his investigations, McGruder chooses a relatively insane family of an old man living with two of his hyper-active grandchildren in suburban (white) America.
McGruder amplifies these black identities which invoke the spirit of parody as well as serious reflection. Regina King provides the voice for both Riley and Huey – the two brothers who have nothing in common except their blood. While Huey is a precocious Black Panther-Malcolm X radical communist revolutionary with the utopian dreams of Black nationalism, Riley is just out to make some serious money by following in the footsteps of his favourite rappers.
However, the most memorable creation of The Boondocks is certainly the character of Grandad (voiced by the legendary John Witherspoon) who is old enough to know that hypocrisy is the most comfortable way out of a tough spot. When he sees the youthful idealism of his energetic grandkids, he dispenses nuggets of rational wisdom like this: “You better learn how to lie like me. I’m gonna find me a white man and lie to him right now.”
Through surreal episodes and unforgettable characters like everyone’s favourite Uncle Ruckus, The Boondocks constructs an experience that is seldom available in some of its contemporaries like South Park. While Matt Stone and Trey Parker have tackled issues of racism, cultural appropriation and other systemic issues in their own ways, the disparity in the depth of understanding is clear when we witness McGruder’s mastery in The Boondocks.
In an interview, McGruder explained: “I don’t think anyone can define the rules for satire. We operate with the message — that’s the easy part. Everyone sits at home with their political opinions. The important thing is making it as funny as possible and knowing when to pull back on the message for the sake of the message… It’s indulgent to turn off the audience for the sake of preaching — the goal is not to turn off the viewer. … But it can never just [be about the jokes] for me. I’m not like a funny person. I’m not like a comedian. I have things I want to say.”
In fact, McGruder’s vision is so ruthless in its disillusionment that even members of the Black community have expressed anger and outrage. Ranging from an outburst by Martin Luther King Jr. who comes back to life only to say: “Black Entertainment Television is the worst thing I have ever seen in my life” to the show’s attacks on the reprehensible actions of R. Kelly as well as the public perception of the star, The Boondocks did have a lot to say and it said it extremely well.
From the very beginning, McGruder was clear that this wasn’t just about token representations. Instead, it was an attempt to start an incendiary dialogue about all the social evils that are inherent in modern society. “This isn’t the ‘nigga’ show,” McGruder said. “I just wish we would expand the dialogue and evolve past the same conversation that we’ve had over the past 30 years about race in our country. […] I just hope to expand the dialogue and hope the show will challenge people to think about things they wouldn’t normally think about, or think about it in a very different way.”
Fans have been asking for a continuation to the show’s legacy for years now and it finally seems like a reboot is in the works, albeit without the involvement of John Witherspoon who sadly passed away. The extent of McGruder’s attachment to this new reboot is also ambiguous but one thing is certainly clear. The world needs The Boondocks more than ever before.