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What To Watch While Stuck In Your Room

In light of recent events regarding the forced removal of the Black Lives Matter banners from the Powerhouse bridge, and the hate crime on campus, I decided that I wanted to recommend television programs and a film that focus on the issues that Black people face in the United States. We should not be the only ones consuming media about our stories — our world will never change if the choir is preached to. These programs must reach a larger audience in order for progress to be made. 

The Boondocks

This adult animated sitcom is based on a comic strip of the same name by African-American artist Aaron McGruder. The Boondocks has been revered as one of the greatest adult animated sitcoms of all time, and is often praised for the fashion in which it satirizes Black culture in the United States. As a die-hard adult animation fan, it is refreshing to be able to watch The Boondocks and know that it was created by a Black artist for Black people. The depiction of Black families on television — let alone in adult animation — is rare, and when we do see these families depicted, they are often given supporting or comedic roles. The Boondocks recognizes Black culture for what it is, and offers a look at life in the suburbs for Black people in the early 2000s.

The Boondocks centers around the Freeman family, which consists of Robert, and his two grandsons, Huey and Riley. While they are said to be ten and eight years old, respectively, Huey and Riley are two potty-mouthed inner city children who, although brothers, could not be more different. Huey, the eldest of the brothers, is the moral compass of the Freeman family. He is wise beyond his years, and idolizes Black revolutionaries. Much to Huey’s dismay, his younger brother Riley perpetuates prevalent stereotypes regarding Black men and their relationship to hip-hop culture. Riley is a wannabe gangster who is always ready to put others down for being ‘soft’ or ‘weak.’ Their grandfather, Robert, is a materialistic and humorous man with anger issues. In his hey-day, Robert was a civil rights activist, so he, like Huey, is embarrassed by Riley’s willingness to live out stereotypes that have been thrust onto their race.

The Freeman men reside in the suburb of Woodcrest, which is predominantly white. Among the many residents of Woodcrest live the DuBois family, a seemingly picture-perfect interracial couple and their young daughter, by whom the Freeman family is often annoyed. There is also the local racist, Uncle Ruckus. Ruckus, who despite harboring an intense hatred for Black people, is Black himself. Woodcrests is home to a variety of colorful characters, including young Cindy, a Caucasian girl who is heavily influenced by hip-hop culture, the millionaire neighbor of the Freeman family, an abusive pimp who goes by the name A Pimp Named Slick Back, and a famous rap group, to many a few. 

For those that are easily offended, The Boondocks may not be for you. The satire that is employed throughout the series is harsh and merciless. That is to say, that no group of people is left unscathed by the jokes made in The Boondocks. You have been warned. The series has also been praised for its action sequences, which are relatively gory for an adult animation. Since the animation style closely resembles that of Japanese anime, the fight scenes flow smoothly, and are intricately drawn and animated. Huey is a master of martial arts, while Riley is adept at street-fighting, so it is always a blast to watch fight scenes between the two siblings.

The Boondocks first premiered in 2005 on Adult Swim, where reruns are often still broadcast. The series is rated TVMA, and many episodes can be found uncensored on Dailymotion, as well as in DVD boxsets. The Boondocks consists of four seasons. Throughout the series’ run, there have been plenty of celebrities who have provided voices, including: Snoop Dogg, Katt Williams, Busta Rhymes, Most Def, and Charlie Murphy. The members of the Freeman family are voiced by John Witherspoon (Robert) and Regina King (Huey and Riley). 

Good Times

This series is “DYN-O-MITE!” as its famous character, JJ Evans would proclaim. Written by screenwriter, Eric Monte, Good Times premiered on CBS in 1974. Good Times centers on the Evans family, an African-American family residing in the Cabrini Green housing projects of Chicago, IL. In typical 1970s sitcom fashion, there is a lesson to be learned from each episode. Many storylines on Good Times have to do with class, race, family, homelessness, politics, gang violence, and addiction, among other things.  

The members of the Evans family include: hardworking patriarch, James, empathetic matriarch, Florida, and their three teenage children, JJ, Thelma, and Michael. JJ is the clown of the Evans family, while Thelma serves as the sophisticated scholar of the family, which is why these two often butt heads. The youngest Evans child, Michael, is gifted child, who possesses a passion for civil rights. Within their housing project resides a cast of characters who each bring their own sense of humor to the table; there is the glamorous Willona and her foster daughter, Penny, who has a major crush on JJ, as well as the overweight and indolent janitor, Bookman, who is often on the brunt end of everyone’s jokes.

Good Times is a series that my father grew up on, so he introduced me to it very early in my life. This show has always meant a lot to me, because it is rare — even today — to see sitcoms focused on Black families who lack dysfunction. Sure, there is Kenya Barris’ Black-ish, but the Johnson family in that sitcom is exceedingly well off, and does not offer an accurate representation of the majority of Black America. Good Times was so ahead of its time when it aired in 1974. At the time, it was unheard of for an impoverished Black family depicted on television — let alone one that was discontent with their situation and doing everything they could to create a better life for themselves, only to be hindered by oppression based on the color of their skin. Before Good Times, there was no accurate depiction of the issues that come with being Black in America.

Good Times went on for six seasons, ending 1979. Reruns still air on TVOne, and can be found on Amazon Prime Video and Dailymotion. The entire series is available for purchase on DVD and Blu-Ray. In 2019, ABC aired a live reboot of Good Times episode, “The Politicians,” starring Andre Braugher (James), Viola Davis (Florida), Tiffany Haddish (Willona), Jay Pharoah (JJ), Corrine Foxx (Thelma), and Asante Blackk (Michael). Good Times is rated TVPG. 

Fences

It is no secret that Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are theatrical powerhouses on their own, but when they come together in this film, you will be blown away. If good acting is something that enhances a viewing experience all the more extraordinary for you, then Fences is sure to be your newfound obsession. Based on the 1985 play of the same name, written by August Wilson, Fences tells the story of an African-American family in 1950s Pittsburgh, PA who lead a simple life with which they are not very content with. The film handles the heavy themes of race relations, missed opportunities, dysfunctionality within families, envy, infidelity, and class. 

Troy (Washington), the matriarch of the Maxon family, is a garbage collector who once dreamed of playing professional baseball; his crushed dreams lead him to envy the athletic potential of his teenage son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), who begins to rebel against his bitter father. Troy’s wife Rose (Davis), is an average housewife, who feels that she forfeited her dreams and settled into a humdrum life. Troy has a son named Lyons (Russel Hornsby), born of a prior marriage, who is a struggling musician, much to his father’s dismay. The final member of the Maxon family is Troy’s brother, Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), who suffered a debilitating head injury while at war, which has impaired his mental state. 

The entire film takes place at the Maxon home, over a period of years, wherein viewers begin to see the Maxon family fall apart as the individual family members begin to voice their discontent with their lives. Fences provides some sophisticated humor, while also bringing you to tears during the more serious scenes. Washington does an excellent job of making audiences love his character one second, and resenting him the next. He is able to deliver Troy’s monologues with such effortless strength, and brings an intriguing complexity to the character. Davis’ portrayal of Rose is equally as powerful. She is able to move audiences to tears with her monologue, which is delivered so naturally and fluidly. 

Fences is two hours and 19 minutes long, and is rated PG-13. You can stream Fences on Amazon Prime Video or YouTube, where it can be rented for $2.99. Of course, the film can also be purchased on DVD and Blu-Ray. Fences was released in theaters in December of 2016, and was directed by Denzel Washington. 

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