Michael Caesar > Uncle Ruckus: The Boondoggle About The Boondocks

Komplicate: Culture

Once upon a time, a snarky little comic strip rose from relative obscurity to become fodder for Sunday morning political pundits and shaking heads along Washington DC’s beltway. Speaking truth to power in regards to some of the most influential events of our time (a series of strips had a lead character calling a tip line to report Ronald Reagan for funding terrorism or positing Condoleeza Rice as a “female Darth Vader type that seeks a loving mate to torture”), The Boondocks became a socio-political court jester, calling out corruption and foolishness on a national stage.

20130205-202235.jpgSome funny things happened on the way to the Cartoon Network, however, as the transition to Adult Swim saw some … changes from the printed version. First, the freedom of basic cable meant no more of the profanity restrictions offered by newspaper syndication. Many of the voices who supported MacGruder fell by the wayside. However, Adult Swim made the conscious effort to bleep out every curse word … except one. The notorious “n-word” was allowed to fly free (and repeatedly) into the ears of millions of viewers around the world, desensitizing audiences to the term while protecting their delicate sensibilities from words like “f***” or “sh**” (one word’s “not so bad” perhaps? Adult Swim’s subsequent Black-themed animated series Black Dynamite made the choice to minimize the word’s usage and bleep it when it was used, most notably in the pilot).

The most glaring change from strip to screen was the reduction of cast members, most notably leaving out Michael Caesar, who was the common sense counterpoint for the radicalized Huey Freeman and his nihilistic, apolitical brother Riley, who often balanced and grounded the discussion. Likewise, classmates Jazmine Dubois and Snoop Dogg-loving Caucasian schoolgirl Cindy McPherson have largely drifted out of view. Without the larger, more diverse group of voices the discourse became less balanced and more caustic, less political Huey and more Riley as well as … well, this …

A smattering of Michael Caesar’s cleverness and mellowed politics got rolled into the character of Huey Freeman, but on the other end of the spectrum we were treated to the self-hating, overwrought, profane and white loving image you see before you, a broken, embittered pathetic shell of a human being who’s on his way to getting a live action feature film after becoming an unofficial representative for the show, Urkel-style. Promoting the kind of imagery railed against in Bamboozled, the audience is supposed to take the slur-spouting, hate-generating caricature as some kind of satire, but in these days of data overload, the slurs are most of what people hear.

Did something “happen” to writer Aaron MacGruder? Did the overwhelming sums of cash from merchandising and licensing change something in his core, shifting his singular politicized voice into a less savvy, less intelectual collaborative effort? Without a telepath, there’s no way for most people to know. What we can know is that the work changed, the voice changed, and not in a way that history could look back upon and say, “this contributed to the future of a people, but instead could only be said to use America’s never-ending love of Black people being mocked and denigrated to fatten certain bank accounts.

Moreover, how is it that a man with a successful television show available on DVD, with multiple books in print and revenue from years of being nationally syndicated (not a small piece of change) doesn’t have either $200,000 (the Kickstarter’s target goal) in cash or the ability to turn to any of a laundry list of people in Hollywood to just sign that over. There are cars parked at the Standard on Sunset that cost more than that. Crowdsourcing this project implies that there’s something rotten in the animated state of Maryland.

“… it was the first time I felt that someone was not laughing with me but laughing at me …” — Dave Chappelle on why he abandoned his ridiculously successful Chappelle’s Show

For Black people who support this direction, this work, it’s particularly vexing, as it essentially does three things …

  • It makes racists think, “we were right, look at the value they as ascribe to themselves!” (obviously paraphrased because, of course, most racists can’t even spell “ascribe,” let alone properly use it in a sentence)
  • It gives people who follow a belief that such depictions of Black people are not only acceptable but normal, meaning more degraded and debased examples are needed to escalate in order to be noticed in the future (Eazy E leads to Tupac, Tupac leads to 2 Chainz and Trinidad James, et cetera)
  • It makes a certain noxious racial slur so commonplace that it becomes common, throwaway discourse for everyone from Guatemalen-American teenagers playing ball in their back yard to Kevin Smith on a Chicago stage in front of 800 people, opening up the door for increases in its common usage.

What’s most ironic about this is the first voice one would expect to have the right opinions about this sort of thing — not just the idea of an Uncle Ruckus movie (especially appearing, in essence endorsed at the Image Awards by the same NAACP the strip often harangued), but Django Unchained or even the slew of recent pieces noting how few Black people have broken through Marvel & DC’s four-color ceiling — would be Michael Caesar, with just the right amount of wit and wisdom, ready to hand out an Elder Award for how embarrassing this debacle has become.

Perhaps one day, when all is said and done, we’ll uncover exactly where Uncle Ruckus buried him, two lonely dreadlocks still peeking up from the sod.

Hannibal Tabu is, at best, a raving jackass. Father, fan, son, published poet, husband, journalist, brother, web producer, weekly comic book reviewer since 2003, author of the novels The Crown: Ascension and Faraway (both just five dollars) and all around internet gadfly. For more information, visit his virtual clocktower, The Operative Network.

[Source: Kickstarter, Wikipedia (animated series and comic strip)]



  1. Kinny Anderson says:

    All I have to say is, BOONDOCKS is the best show I’ve seen. I dont care what anyone says. Rucks may be a irrelevantor whatever you want to say, but he is like an ordinary human that we have alot of in the locked up world. Think about it. Like I said, ANYTHING yall say, Is not cared from me. They all have personalities that ordinary people in the world have, so. Take several seats.

  2. First – According to McGruder, Caesar isn’t in the series because the producers never found an acceptable actress to provide his voice. Apparently a script introducing the character was written at about the time Season 2 was done. I don’t know if they’re still looking.

    Second – while I somewhat agree that audiences misperceive the intentions of the Uncle Ruckus character, that is only partially the fault of the people who make the program Uncle Ruckus is really the least of my worries as far as missed/failed executions of concepts & ideas go on “The Boondocks” with me – Ed Wuncler III and his pal are key examples. While I don’t agree with being afraid of black humorists satire because idiots (pardon my language) might think it’s on the level, execution has to be everything. I don’t necessarily think Ruckus has enough of a strong opposite force in the show to counter against – a Huey/Caesar team-up would be ideal foils to Ruckus. I don’t think, however, that the character should be disused or even toned down – the satire just needs to be more tightly focused and its targets more distinct.

    There’s a lot of “it worked on paper/doesn’t work on screen” in that show. Nothing “happened” to McGruder (and to be clear, he is not the only writer on this show) other than the inability to do current event/political stories in the same manner as the comic strip, and the necessity to try to match the demands of the different medium of doing a 22-minute TV script versus a series of four-panel comic strips. The first season I found/find hard to sit through. The second season hand the first half of the third are much, much better. I don’t like the excessive cursing (*that word* isn’t censored because, in its timeslot, cable networks don’t consider it censorable. See also Comedy Central and “Chapelle’s Show”), and many of the episodes suffer from uneven timing, jokes that aren’t executed well, and (in season one) stretches of poor animation. The best episodes are the ones that take direct aim

    Third – Aaron McGruder not having $200,000 to make a movie on his own shouldn’t be that unbelievable. “The Boondocks” did well as a comic strip, but it was never a giant hit on the level of “Peanuts” or like that. Same for the book sales. There is little to no merchandising, and given how the production of the show has been handled, I can’t imagine that whatever deal McGruder signed when he sold the rights to Sony was really that lucrative.

    As far as trying to find other sources of funding, it’s not as simple as just getting a random person in Hollywood to just “sign that over”. It’s very likely McGruder didn’t want to have to answer to the demands of private investors, who would want a say in the creative aspects of the film. Since the Kickstarter didn’t succeed as is, I don’t think an Uncle Ruckus movie is on the way anytime soon as is.

  3. I thought the first season of the Boondocks was a solid first effort with plenty of growing room. The 2 seasons after that have been very hit or miss. After only 3 seasons it already feels like McGruder is running out of ideas and often relies on the sort of broad humor that you find in typical black comedies, the very films he once made fun of in his comic strip. Honestly, after the first few years, the strip itself became a way for McGruder to snark on current events and blast famous people he didn’t like. It was still often funny, but writing a 3 act 30 minute story is a different animal and I think Aaron needs to get some more voices in his writers room to help him out. If Wiki is to be believed it looks like the last season was mainly written by himself which is a tall order for 15 episodes of a comedy show. After all the original Simpsons shorts were mainly by Matt Groeing, but it was the other writers who helped him shape the series into the pop culture phenomenon it would become once it became a tv show.

  4. the BOONDOCKS has been basically worthless since it jumped from strip to tv. it’s very apropos that you cite Chappelle’s vacating his series because his audience is largely the same as that which watches the BOONDOCKS and that is, very much, folks laughing AT, rather than with.

    I really tried to give that show a shot because i loved the strip so much but, no. this crap needs to stop. a film focusing on ruckus would win the SERGEANT WATERS award for being that year’s Moonshine, King of the Monkeys.

    Enough’s enough.

  5. Chace Thibodeaux says:

    A live-action Uncle Ruckss movie?!?
    The character may be funny within the context of the strip, but he’s a pretty one-note character that I can’t see warranting an entire film.
    I used to love The Boondocks strip when it first appeared. Read it daily the first few years. But never really got into the cartoon version ( although the MLK Jr. Episode remains a favorite).
    But the the strip seemed to turn from being biting social commentary to being an excuse to attack every famous Black person for not living up to McGruders standard of Blackness, and I lost interest.

  6. Ooh.

  7. Hmmm, yes, well, maybe Ruckus will have an epiphany in the final scene — after the ghost of Django Unchained has shot him in both knees — and he’ll say, “Right on, right on.” Then again, maybe not.

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