Western Animation: The Boondocks and “Riley Wuz Here”

Remember that time in the library when you were a kid? You were looking through books and shuffling them aside then your parents/teacher comes up and tells you that phrase that you would hear many times over, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. I want to talk about something you probably have never heard of if you’re an anime fan. That or you don’t live in the U.S.  So lets take a break from highschool kids getting blessed with either hot girls or superpowers. Let’s take a ride to the west, and talk about one of my favorite western animation

Yes, I realize this is an ANIME blog but I just HAD to talk about some western animation sooner or later. Other than the childhood classics that came with Nickelodean and Cartoon Network, I have one series that want to talk about today, and it is called The Boondocks. This day happens to be the 6th year since one of the favorite episodes from said show was aired.

From the Adult Swim lineup in the years of T.V watching, no other show could capture a culture so well. It has both so much meaning and so much satire. The series become one of my favorite shows to watch next to the regular Family Guy, Robot Chicken, etc. The Boondocks was created by Aaron Macgruder who himself was inspired by the works of Shinichiro Watanabe’s (Bebop and Champloo) style. Hell, one episode is a direct homage to Samurai Champloo’s baseball episode, only that they make it a kickball episode this time. The Boondocks covers the lives of the African American family known as the Freemans, namely of the brothers Huey and Riley Freeman and their ancient grandfather, Robert. The show and the popular videogame Grand Theft Auto can be easily compared to: On the outside, it’s a product filled with profanity, racism, and violence. On the inside however, lies deeper meanings; characters that have such life and symbolism in them. It also resembles Gintama in a way as it can flawlessly switch from hilarious comedy to action packed fight sequences, and even some tear-jerking moments. Anyways the series follow the escapades of family and the stories that goes on in their neighborhood.

The premise is that Huey and Riley are from the Southern part of Chicago and they move in with their grandfather into a neighborhood called Woodcrest, a peaceful “white” suburb. The show’s main point is in its view of the black people. Now I will say this, I’m Asian, I am the FARTHEST thing from being black and if I happen to offend anyone, please tell me.

Huey the older brother is a 10 year old child who clearly knows his history. He finds the current state of the black community (both social and portrayal in the media) disgusting and his general knowledge far surpasses the knowledge of any 10 year old. In his politcal views, Huey looks at himself as a visionary and has exceptional leadership skills, the only problem being is that no one else understands his concepts and ideas, which leads to him distrusting any form of government. Because of this, he is very cynical person and is able to calmly tell a little girl that the Easter Bunny isn’t real and that everyone she knows is going to die. Huey’s calm and collected attitude acts as the main voice of reason during the many times a problem occurs.  Huey also is proficient at fighting. Mastering hand to hand combat and the usage of katanas, nunchucks and staffs.  Riley, Huey’s younger brother on the other hand is the complete opposite of Huey’s ideals. Riley acts as the physical epitome of what Huey finds wrong in the modern black culture. Riley loves the “gangsta” style of life and imitates what he sees on T.V and tries to lead the most “gangster” life as possible. He’s violent, brash, and talks as if he knows what he’s talking about. Riley is responsible for some of the stuff that goes down in the neighborhood. However, he seems to have some sense of honor (a little). He hates the idea of snitching someone out and refuses any aid from the police (with some other meaning as well). Their “Grandad” finds both of the boys troubling, he finds Huey’s ideas too radical and Riley’s gangster life hard to manage. Grandad himself has problems with finding a woman again but that will be discussed at a later time. The basic idea is: Huey wishes to change the face of the current, steriotypical black community. Riley wishes to go with it and make the best out of the current fads and trends within the black community. Finally, grandad is basically “trapped in the past” and is rather passive and tries to just live a life. These three characters have a lot of meaning other than fighting, shouting profanities, and other nonsense that goes on in their neighborhood.

From the very beginning words of the intro, it establishes the nature of Black history in America, I would go on to analyze the intro myself but a kind person who clearly knows his history has summarized it for us on this site, check it out.

The Song

The Meaning

Although going over such themes is very crucial to the show itself, I wished to commemorate an episode that really got to me. Many episodes were hilarious, thematic, and extremely well animated (fight scenes) but this episode really got to me. The show has currently gone for 3 seasons and this episode was aired in the 1st season. I felt something in me when I watched this but all the more when I watched it again after watching all 3 season, after getting to know the characters even more.

The episode is titled: Riley Wuz Here and it focuses on Riley spray painting on neighborhood property. On one of the nights, a man with an afro critiques his work and refines the color of the graffiti. Riley is caught by the neighborhoods and scolded by his Grandad, but the afro man is not seen. As punishment, Riley is now forced to take art classes so he will be able to draw his “art” on paper instead on the walls of houses. Suprisingly, the afro man happens to be the art teacher. Riley is initially angry at his new teacher and is reluctant to do any real drawing. However, after some clever talk and with the considerate words of his teacher, he begins to take art seriously. While this is going on, Huey tries to record data on “If you watch enough Black television, you will die”. As Riley becomes more able with drawing, his teacher agrees to move on to a bigger canvas and decides to help him with his graffiti/murals. That night, Riley wishes to draw something violent but he is told to take people by suprise and paint something else. Riley heeds his teacher’s words and decides to paint a bowl of fruit but he is told not to sign it to gain recognition. But the crowd praise the painting. But Riley is not discovered much to his chagrin.  The next night, the two decide to paint a “fallen” hero in form of the rapper, Ol’ Dirty Bastard but this time, Riley signs the mural with an alias. The next morning, he finds many more signatures on his work. Enraged he tries to hint at the painter’s identity but he is ignored due to the murals he had painted prior to his meeting with his teacher. Due to such “arrogant” remarks, he is punished by Grandad who becomes increasingly annoyed at Riley’s antics.  Somewhere along there, the two brothers do a complete shift in personalities, Huey at this time in the story is now completely blanked out with continous viewing of steriotypical black television and becomes very similar to Riley, in a sense that he’s become ignorant. Riley has now some drive in his newfound passion. Riley now truly wishes to show everyone in the neighborhood that it is him that has been painting the murals. His teacher recommends to paint about “Someone you love, maybe, someone who’s not with us anymore.” That night, while Huey is in his final hours of watching his t.v, he finds Riley going through the family photos.

Riley and his teacher work through the night to draw their ultimate project. However, by break of dawn, they are discovered by the police. The duo get stuck in a car chase. The art teacher (who was actually a Gulf War veteran) repels the police with his pistol. While this is going on, Grandad is awoken by a phonecall on another graffiti/mural tagging. However, he is suprised when he finds out, that the mural is on his house this time. As Grandad and Huey walk out to see the piece, the two are appalled to see the picture of Grandad and his late wife’s wedding day photo. Grandad’s eyes well with tears and the art teacher drops off Riley as he continues to avoid the police. Grandad thanks Riley for the beautiful memory but immediately tells him to wash it off, saying that if he learned to draw on paper, he wouldn’t need to paint on their house.

I thank you Aaron Macgruder, this was literally one of the most touching scenes I have ever watched. Seeing Grandad’s old and cranky attitude finally crack to the beautify of Riley’s mural was amazing. The music makes the touching scene even more emotional

I apologize for going astray in my usual line up of posts but I just wanted to say “thanks” for this great episode.

And of course, I apologize if I rambled or made any offense of any kind.

What about kind reader who read this entire wall of text? (or for those who skipped to the end…) Other than strictly romance anime or even T.V shows, did ANY scene ever get to you, right in the heart?

5 thoughts on “Western Animation: The Boondocks and “Riley Wuz Here””

  1. That was a great synopsis of the Boondocks. I’m an African American and I feel that you nailed the essence of that episode, and the series as a whole, perfectly. Good job!

    1. Thank you Jeuron! I was planning on contacting someone of the African American descent to help me talk about this subject but I ran out of time because I wished to post this today.
      But thank you! I worked a long while in trying to make this post!

  2. The farthest thing from being Black is white. Sorry, I just had to throw that in there. 🙂 The Boondocks is a good show and you did a wonderful job reviewing it. It was even better as a comic.

  3. That was a really good read, I’m glad someone else understands the deeper story behind The Boondocks.

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