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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Thoughts On Aaron McGruder’s Departure from The Boondocks

The Boondocks is having a fourth and final season on Adult Swim.

Only they’re having it without its creator Aaron McGruder and its executive producer.

Sony the producer of the show says in a press release Aaron McGruder says he’s not on the showbecause “a mutually agreeable production schedule could not be determined”and Aaron McGruder on his Facebook page stated that he'd lost control over "The Boondocks," writing, "Just found out someone has hijacked 'THE BOONDOCKS' Facebook page. This was done without my permission and I have absolutely no control over the content being posted as of Friday, March 14."

 Many are upset about this change But Behind the scenes I know it’s business as usual in Hollywood.

When it comes to intellectual property, behind the scenes the Hollywood corporate executives pull swerves like this. Sony saw that The Boondocks was a popular show. That it was making money. And fans were demanding a fourth season. Seeing money to be made, they decided to cut out the middleman: Aaron McGruder.

The reason why Sony is able to produce a fourth Season of The Boondocks without its creator is in the standard contract for the TV rights McGruder sold to Sony. Usually in the fine print of these contracts are all sorts of clauses. And even the best entertainment lawyers have a hard time trying to figure them out. This is why it’s important to READ EVERYTHING BEFORE YOU SIGN IT.

Hollywood film studios love to find ways to screw creators over for their intellectual property. And once a creator signs on the dotted line, they can sign away their lives.  

On the surface of a contract like this, Short term a creator like Aaron McGruder would make some money, and have their characters exposed to an audience. But long-term on a deal like this a creator can get SCREWED.

What Sony is probably doing is exercising the rights they bought over the TV adaptation of The Boondocks. While Aaron McGruder may own the print rights and copyrights over the characters, Sony owns the Television rights over those characters. And because they own those rights, they can do whatever they wish with them. Including produce a fourth season without McGruder and his executive producer.

In the contract McGruder signed he gave Sony the right to make an ADAPTATION his strip for television. And in Hollywood ADAPTATION is a tricky word. It means that the producers can modify a story or a character for their VERSION of a property as they see fit.

Adapation is how Disney can take a story with a downbeat ending like the Little Mermaid with the death of Ariel and the prince and make it upbeat. Or how Oprah Winfrey can take a story like Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and OMIT details like Janie Crawford coming from a female headed household.  Or how Steven Speilberg can OMIT all the Lesbian references in his film version of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

And  adaptation is the techinchal word Sony used to Grab Aaron McGruder’s intellectual property. They own the rights to the TV versions of Huey, Riley, and all the TV versions of the characters in the Boondocks. How did they get them? When Aaron McGruder SOLD THEM to SONY.

Again, many creators sign on the dotted line not knowing that they’ve signed away their lives. Hollywood executives are masters of the marathon game. They play for long-term, looking to make money YEARS after a property has been sold. This is why anyone who gets involved with them has to be focused on the big picture for their intellectual property. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions of the creative process and not understand the fact that Hollywood is in the BUSINESS of entertainment.

This is why a smart creator has to wear two hats and a poker face. They have to wear their creative hat when they’re being creative in the studio and the writers’ room. But when they step into the business side of intellectual property, they have to have their business hat on as well, being savvy enough to know the ins and outs of entertainment law regarding copyrights, and trademarks. Hollywood is a Shark Tank and the executives on the business side are NEVER acting in a creator’s best interest.

For a corporation like Sony, The Boondocks is just another licensed property in their catalog. And because Sony’s executives see it as property, they could care less about the artistic vision of the people like Aaron McGruder. For them, the creators don’t matter. The way they see it, they can hire some writers to study the story models of the episodes they have and have them re-create the show for them.

Usually this is where the content of a show like The Boondocks gets compromised. Again, What Sony is producing is an ADAPTATION of McGruder’s Boondocks comic strip. So it doesn’t have to capture the spirit or the message of those strips, just feature those characters. For a company like Sony, all they need is Huey Riley and Gramps to be onscreen in whatever story they want to tell to the millions of fans in this fourth season.  

That’s where things get dangerous for Black people. Most people will not see the comic strip version of The Boondocks. No, they'll identify  The Boondocks with the Sony's VERSION of the characters. Those VERSIONS will become ICONIC, just like Disney's Winnie-the-Pooh is seen as the ICONIC Pooh, not the original A.A. Milne illustrated version.

With Sony in control, what many Black people fear is that the TV version of the Boondocks will turn into the COONDocks, and that VERSION will become ICONIC. Season 4 could become focused on an overemphasis on characters who act stereotypical like Uncle Ruckus. Characters like Huey and Riley could be re-written to be pale shadows of themselves. And all of the sly commentary on the Black community will be completely re-written to reflect the views of White Liberals.

The kinds of people that praise films like Precious, 12 Years a Slave and Monster’s Ball as Humanized images of African Americans.

My fear is that nonblack people watching this final season of The Boondocks may get presented with stereotype images of Black people and believe these are social norms. I also fear that Black people may get presented with a stereotype image of Black people and think that its normal. Pictures are a thousand words. And can make statements about people that last a lifetime. Aaron McGruder’s legacy could possibly get perverted and corrupted by Sony’s executives in Hollywood. As long as they hold those TV rights, they can produce as many Boondocks episodes as they wish.

And because they own the TV stations they’re distributed on they can choose what episodes get run. They could choose to run Season 4 for years and bury seasons 1-3. Or they could do what Warner Brothers is doing to Static Shock and bury the show so no one can find it by not releasing a complete series DVD.

I’m hoping that Aaron McGruder didn’t sign the standard contract for Television rights and that he doesn’t become a victim of a perpetuity clause. I’m hoping that one day he can get the rights back to his intellectual property and maybe someday work with a Black-owned animation studio towards adapting his work. As a publisher of Positive Black fiction I know how important it is for Black people to control their image in the media. When we present images of ourselves they feature humantypes. But when nonblack people are allowed to create images of Black people they feature stereotypes. There are lessons to be learned from Aaron McGruder losing control over The Boondocks, and I hope Black people take them to heart about the entertainment industry.


  1. Wow that was deep, and as a Boondocks fan I used to follow the strip as well before he went on hiatus to do the animated series which inspired me more as an artist. I probably wont be watching season 4, I may catch a couple of episodes, but without Mcgruder it won't be the same.

  2. My late husband and I used to love that show. If he were alive he would be livid. But I shall be livid for him and refuse to watch it. Also, those of us who remember In Living Color, watched the same thing happen to that show. Regardless if you are a fan of the Wayans' or not, it was a shame how the show changed after Keenan lost control of it.

  3. I remember watching In Living Color as a teenager myself. And yeah, it wasn't the same show when Keenan lost control over it. Season 4-5 were a pale shadow of it's original soul. Fear the same thing will happen to the Boondocks.

  4. Excellent analysis, Shawn.

    Yet another black voice lost due to the greed and desire of others.

    Read another article about the issue in which the writer advises Sony to talk to Comedy Central about how the third season of "The Chappelle Show" went without Dave.

  5. I am the person that commented about In Living Color, and we also used to The Chappelle Show, and it became a piece of crap the last season. They think that Black people can just be dismissed and written off.

  6. I remember what happened with Chappelle. The producers thought because they paid him $50 million dollars they could tell him what to do with his show. Dave had the backbone to walk off the show and it turned into a piece of crap in the last season.

    I always respected Dave Chappelle for standing up for himself. He had enough dignity to put himself first.

    Yeah, they do think that Black creators can be dismissed and written off. But if it wasn't for the creators, they wouldn't have a show. As a creator of content myself seeing the way Black people are treated by big six media oligarchy is the main reason I publish my own work. It's the best way to avoid it being compromised and keeps my message from being diluted.