The Boondocks, “Hunger Strike”
For this blog post I will be focusing on ‘The Boondocks’, an American animated series created by Aaron McGruder, and the way it criticizes black stereotype on BET. The show features an African American family named the Freemans who have just moved from Chicago to the fictional, peaceful, and predominately white suburb of Woodcrest. The show is important because it often offers satirical perspectives which cleverly criticize cultural norms in the United States. In particular, the perspectives of the story (seen through the eyes of two young African American kids) offer a mixture of cultures, lifestyles, and races—all of which simultaneously provide the comedy and important messages of the show.
“Hunger Strike” is an episode which is particularly clever. It successfully criticizes both the people who are in charge of Black Entertainment Television, and the people who watch it. The episode begins in the headquarters of BET. One of the company’s CEOs, who looks strikingly similar to Dr. Evil, berates her employees for not doing a good enough job of “completely destroying black people,” (0:27). The board members begin to brainstorm ways to help speed up the destruction of any remaining meaningful elements of black culture. The scene ends with one of the show’s main characters, Huey Freeman, stating on CNN that he had begun a hunger strike which would not end until the network is brought down, and “all of its top executives commit Japanese ritual suicide,” (2:23). Already, in the first couple minutes of the episode, we find that the producers of The Boondocks are critically analyzing the ways in which BET damages African Americans. BET is represented as completely and utterly evil—and most importantly, completely aware of the damage they are doing to black culture.
The next scene offers an interesting dialogue between Huey and his brother, Riley. Riley, who watches BET every day, thinks that the hunger strike is silly. Huey explicitly states that “BET is out to destroy black people,” (4:05), to which Riley comically replies, “My nigga, I watch BET every day, feel me? Aint nothin’ wrong with me, feel me? Nigga you just hatin’, feel me? That’s why you aint never gunna have no paper, and never gunna have not bitches, feel me?” (4:15). This brief dialogue reveals how BET damages younger generations; Riley’s grammar is atrocious, he speaks crudely, and we see that he is only concerned with women and money—both of which are the main focus of many BET shows.
The rest of the episode centers on Huey promoting his cause with a rich, well-respected African American political figure named Rev. Rolo Goodlove. While Huey remains true to his hunger strike, Rolo tries to exploit and profit off of BET’s poor publicity. We watch as Rolo produces his own vulgar rap album, is caught in strip clubs, and exposed for exploiting the poor; all of which effectively perpetuate BET’s negative stereotypes towards black people. Huey’s movement is destroyed when Rolo sells Huey and his boycott out for his own personal sitcom on BET. The episode ends with Huey depressed about the way his strike turned out. In a melancholy tone he asks his grandfather, “What do you do, when you can’t do nothing, but there’s nothing you can do?” (18:40), to which his grandfather wisely replies, “You do what you can.” (18:40).
This episode is an interesting criticism of Black Entertainment Television. It reveals the ironic stereotyping of black people on a show which is supposed to represent African Americans respectfully. “Hunger Strike” shows how BET perpetuates negative stereotypes by representing black people as unintelligent, uncritical, and concerned primarily with money and women. ‘The Boondocks’ takes a critical stance against these stereotypes and shows the damaging effects it has on younger generations, (like the way that Riley talks to his brother). Finally, the episode reveals that BET has become a spectacle which won’t be changed by a single person. However, I feel that Huey’s grandfather’s final words reveal that viewers have the freedom to choose not to watch BET programming, and that might be the best way to combat its stereotypes.