I enjoy honoring Black History Month (BHM) on my blog because there are so many excellent Christmas episodes, specials and TV movies with exceptional African-American cast members. There are also many outstanding and touching Christmas TV story lines aimed at black audiences. This month I'm highlighting just a few of my favorites.
The TV series The Boondocks is a provocative, thoughtful animated series based on the comic strip by Aaron McGruder. The series was created for Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network, intended for more mature audiences. But you know that--you've seen it before, right? Let me remind you about the absorbing 2005 holiday episode, "A Huey Freeman Christmas."
|Huey knows his values are not readily accepted by the mainstream--even his views on Christmas.
Huey is invited by his culturally sensitive teacher Mr. Uberwitz to direct the school's Christmas play. Looking to protect his artistic vision, Huey insists that he have complete creative control over the project.
|Mr. Uberwitz meets the show's co-producer, Quincy Jones.
Huey takes the project very seriously and sets up a production team worthy of Hollywood. He even brings in Quincy Jones as his co-producer. (Yes--it's the real Quincy Jones who voices the character here!) After finding his classmates goofing off during rehearsal time, Huey fires them and begins casting A-list Hollywood stars for the roles.
|The casting process--what about Will Smith? Is he available?
Although Mr. Uberwitz is worried about the cost of hiring Denzel Washington for the role of the third wise man and Angela Bassett as Mary, Huey reminds his teacher that he has complete creative control. Huey is also convinced that his play "The Adventures of Black Jesus" will revolutionize elementary school productions for all time.
|The Santa Stalker strikes!
|Uncle Ruckus explains to Riley that the real Santa isn't going to return to fix his mistake as long as he's under the threat of violence. That makes sense.
This episode also contains two minor story lines. Huey's brother Riley is seeking violent revenge against the mall's Santa Claus. Calling himself the Santa Stalker, Riley wants justice for a previous transgression when Santa didn't bring him what he asked for at Christmas. The physical assaults on the mall's Santa become so disruptive that Uncle Ruckus is hired to replace Santa Claus.
|In a wonderful bit of satire, Jazmine voices her worship of the all-powerful, loving Santa Claus from the pulpit at church.
And, Jazmine has adorably confused the holiday role of Jesus with Santa Claus as she embraces "the reason for the season" this Christmas. In church, Jazmine recites the lyrics from the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" as a sacred list of Santa's powers. One of my favorite lines in this satirical episode is Jazmine's warning "Beware of false Santas"--a biblical sounding quote to alert Riley that Uncle Ruckus is now working as the mall's Santa Claus.
|Huey spends many late nights writing his play and long hours during the day rehearsing, blocking, and staging his theater masterpiece.
Back to Huey's play. The production of "The Adventures of Black Jesus" seems to be going well as Huey finely crafts his unique vision for the stage. The PTA however has threatened a boycott since all the school children were fired. Then, Huey is called in to speak with the principal. In the horrible double-speak known to show business, the principal claims to love everything about the production yet he has just a few notes about changes. When Huey is told that his play can't depict a black Jesus, he once again demands complete creative control over the production. This time however, the principal tears up Huey's written contract. Huey appeals to his co-producer, Quincy Jones who disappointingly explains that these things happen in show business. The uncompromising Huey Freeman decides to walk away from his production, leaving it up to Mr. Uberwitz to decide to make the changes himself or cancel the show.
|Curious about what happens to Huey's production? You'll have to watch the episode to see for yourself.
What I love about this Christmas episode is that it is wholly original while it also tips its hat to Christmas TV's past. The uncompromising Huey Freeman has a message he wants to express in this stage production that he labors to see come to life. His message is about the misunderstood origins of Christmas as well as racial identity. Both are serious topics to be taken up by such a young man, especially one in an animated series.
|Children dancing instead of rehearsing the Christmas play? Where have I seen that before?
|He's no Charlie Brown!
At the same time, the story is told with constant reminders of another, more familiar animated TV special about another Christmas play director--yes, A Charlie Brown Christmas. In "A Huey Freeman Christmas" --see even the title points back to the classic!--we hear piano music in the background playing "O Christmas Tree," his grandfather explains that Linus' dialogue in the Peanuts TV special is the true meaning of Christmas, Huey's classmates dance instead of rehearsing the play, Huey even has a bad attitude about what others' say he should be feeling at Christmas. While all these references evoke the original 1965 animated TV special, in one scene Huey goes so far as to scream, "Do I look like Charlie Brown?" Message received. This Christmas episode of The Boondocks is both paying homage to everyone's favorite animated special while it also uses it to juxtapose the wishy-washy Charlie Brown against the uncompromising, strong Huey Freeman. I love its originality. Huey's stage production and this Christmas episode both acknowledge the past while creating an updated, provocative story for contemporary audiences. I love it when Christmas entertainment is smart as well as emotionally satisfying. Is this Christmas episode of The Boondocks on your annual must-see list?