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Deep in ‘The Boondocks’

Twenty Years Later, Alum’s Comic Creation Still Hits Hard—and Prepares for Revival on HBO

By Daniel Oyefusi '19

Image from "The Boondocks"

“The Boondocks” character courtesy of Sony Pictures Television; strip reprinted with permission from The Diamondback

“The Boondocks,” a comic strip and TV series created by Aaron McGruder ’98, is known for its satirical comedy and no-holds-barred societal commentary.

Black culture, satirical comedy and a heaping helping of no-holds-barred societal commentary. No cartoon franchise has ever combined these elements like “The Boondocks,” a comic strip and later a TV series created by Aaron McGruder ’98.

It spread its caustic humor in the pages of The Diamondback before becoming a nationally syndicated comic from 1999 to 2006. The Cartoon Network run lasted from 2005 to 2014, and Sony Pictures Animation in June announced plans to reboot the series next year with McGruder. Last week, HBO Max announced that two “reimagined” seasons will launch on its new streaming service in fall 2020.The Boondocks strip by Aaron McGruder: "It is a bright, crisp fall morning ... Huey and Riley, along with their parents, have just become the first black residents of this upscale neighborhood. The boys eagerly look forward to a new life—a new beginning nestled in the warm embrace of suburbia ... 'You know if we jack that Lexus across the street we could be back in Chicago by Wednesday ...' 'Forget it Riley, we're stuck here...'"

“It was important to offend, but equally important to offend for the right reasons,” he wrote in a statement on his initial departure from the series. “For three seasons I personally navigated this show through the minefields of controversy. It was not perfect. And it definitely was not quick. But it was always done with a keen sense of duty, history, culture and love.

Earlier this year, McGruder sent fans into swoons by publishing six new strips on the Instagram account of radio host Charlamagne Tha God. The strips were as biting and relevant as ever, swiping at Michael Jackson, MSNBC and the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Twenty years after “The Boondocks” introduced America to the struggles of 10-year-old revolutionary-minded Huey Freeman and 8-year-old gangsta-wannabe brother Riley in acclimating from the South Side of Chicago to fictional affluent suburb Woodcrest, Md., we look back at some of its signature storylines and episodes.

STRIPS

October 2001
In the emotional weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, McGruder stirs controversy with strips that charge U.S. administrations with arming the terrorists, and Huey calls for the arrest of President George W. Bush.

July 2003
Characters celebrate the death of segregationist U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, with Huey reflecting, “You can really, really, really, really, really hate black people … and it’s basically OK with everyone.”

October 2003
The Washington Post and other newspapers decline to run a series of strips about finding a boyfriend for Condoleezza Rice, then Bush’s national security adviser.


EPISODES

November 2005
In the series’ second episode, McGruder tees off on R&B singer R. Kelly, questioning the avid support of some in the African-American community despite accusations of child pornography and sexual abuse of minors.

January 2006
In an alternative history episode, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. survives his assassination attempt, awaking from a coma decades later only to be disappointed by the state of African-American culture and the nation’s progress toward civil rights.

January 2008
McGruder again confronts clashing African-American perspectives among different generations and socioeconomic groups with a plot based on a white teacher calling Riley the n-word. Who in society controls the use of the explosive term, Huey wonders?

May 2010
Amid a celebration in Woodcrest over President Barack Obama’s winning the presidency, Huey—doubtful that an elected official can fix society—is indifferent to the historic occasion.

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