‘Boondocks’ to BET: !*%#!
The battle between “The Boondocks” creator Aaron McGruder and Black Entertainment Television is about to get a lot more animated.
Two second-season episodes of the biting cartoon series that attack the black-themed network but were never aired -- possibly because of corporate pressure -- are slated for DVD release Tuesday. The pair of shows take aim at BET’s top executives and lampoon what it views as the cable network’s harmful negative imagery and stereotypes that work as a “destructive” force within African American culture.
The episodes amplify a familiar chord struck by McGruder, who has regularly targeted BET, first in his politically and culturally charged comic strip, published in more than 300 newspapers, and subsequently in the TV adaptation on Cartoon Network’s edgy late-night Adult Swim.
But these particular installments, which like many in the animated series feature violence, foul language and frequent use of the N-word, apparently went too far in mocking BET’s top brass. In “The Hunger Strike,” a main character refuses to eat until BET is off the air and its executives commit hara-kiri.
And in “The Uncle Ruckus Reality Show,” a foul-mouthed black man who hates African Americans gets a show on BET. The hot-button series centers on two young black boys, militant Huey Freeman and his gangsta-wannabe younger brother, Riley, who live in the suburbs with their grandfather.
When BET executives learned of the shows, they complained to Turner-owned Cartoon Networks and Sony Pictures Television, which produces “The Boondocks,” and urged that they be blocked from broadcast, according to sources close to the program who requested anonymity for fear of network reprisal.
Initially, Cartoon Network resisted, but when legal action was threatened, the episodes, written by McGruder and co-executive producer Rodney Barnes, were yanked, according to sources. Both McGruder and Barnes declined to comment.
Executives at Turner and Viacom-owned BET, however, deny there were any discussions about removing the programs between the two companies. Still, Turner officials would not explain why the two installments were eventually withheld.
Both episodes are highlighted by fierce satirical attacks on two top BET executives, portrayed in thinly disguised caricatures.
Chairman and Chief Executive Debra L. Lee, who succeeded the network’s founder, Robert Johnson, is shown as Debra Leevil, patterned after “Dr. Evil” in the “Austin Powers” films. Leevil declares in a staff meeting: “Our leader Bob Johnson had a dream, a dream that would accomplish what hundreds of years of slavery, Jim Crow and malt liquor could not accomplish -- the destruction of black people.”
And BET President of Entertainment Reginald Hudlin is depicted as Wedgie Rudlin, a culturally insensitive buffoon coasting on his Ivy League education. Hudlin, a former friend of McGruder, is ironically credited as an executive producer on the series, the end result of a professional partnership that ended bitterly over creative differences before the series premiered in 2005.
A BET spokesperson said that the network was aware of the episodes and did not, as a network that runs its own satirical content, begrudge those who made fun of its programming.
The DVD release features stinging commentary from McGruder and Barnes about the episodes, which are uncut. In the introduction, McGruder said he went after BET because network executives, in his view, failed to elevate the network’s standards -- something Hudlin had pointedly promised to do when joining the network three years ago.
“I was looking for changes and improvements, and I didn’t see any,” McGruder said on the DVD. “I didn’t see them. So I said, OK, it’s fair game. It’s hard not to address it. It really was an important part of the strip.” Because of legal reasons, he adds, he cannot mention the real names of the people satirized in the episodes.
Barnes added: “You expect white television to present black people in a particular way. The anger comes from black television portraying us in a particular way. That brings out a different sense of frustration, and at the heart of these episodes is that frustration.”