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Ever since Oprah Winfrey's epic Golden Globes speech, everyone's been talking about the idea of her running for president. While some could write it off as just wishful thinking, it's actually not the first time someone's imagined the TV mega mogul taking over the Oval Office. The Boondocks, an animated program that ran for four seasons in a roughly nine-year span, had actually predicted an Oprah campaign run. The series, which was created by Aaron McGruder (who has been called "the angriest Black man in America" at times) and was based on his acclaimed comic strip of the same name, took a hard look at Black America, with everything from Jim Crow to various pop culture figures being parodied over its 55-episode run.
The Boondocks was known for pushing the envelope just as much as pushing buttons. One of its most controversial episodes was the one where the hilariously accurate prediction of President Oprah came from. But having a Black woman lead the country wasn't what got people's panties in a bunch, it was the fact that the episode (which aired on January 15, 2006) also brought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. back from the grave. No, this wasn't some excavation where King turned into a lit zombie. On the season one episode "Return of the King," the show's protagonist Huey Freeman told the story of an alternate reality, where King actually survived the assassination attempt made on his life on April 4, 1968. In this universe, King lay in a coma for 32 years, waking up just in time for the 2000 U.S. presidential election (for which he wasn't actually able to participate in due to voting irregularities).
From there, we get a fairly consistent look at what life for King would look like if he were alive today. Like, of course there'd be a biopic about him, starring someone like Cuba Gooding, Jr. in a film directed by Oliver Stone (which would piss of Spike Lee). Of course King would make a television appearance where his old school mentality of turning the other cheek would lead to the news media roasting him. And of course, when he tried to reconnect with the Black youth, it'd turn into some super-lit function, complete with booty-shaking and loud hip-hop music—definitely not the dream King had envisioned. This is what leads to the controversy. Tired of all of the bullshit he has had to deal with since waking from his coma, King goes off and drops the dreaded N-word.
"Will you ignorant ni**as pleeease shut the hell up," King began. After the crowd gasped at the Civil Rights leader addressing them that way, he went in.
Is this it? This is what I got all those ass whoopings for? I had a dream once. It was a dream that little Black boys and little Black girls would drink from the river of prosperity, freed from the thirst of oppression. But lo and behold, some four decades later, what have I found but a bunch of trifling, shiftless, good-for-nothing ni**as? And I know some of you don't want to hear me say that word. It's the ugliest word in the English language, but that's what I see now: ni**as. And you don't want to be a ni**a, 'cause ni**as are living contradictions! Ni**as are full of unfulfilled ambitions! Ni**as wax and wane; ni**as love to complain! Ni**as love to hear themselves talk, but hate to explain! Ni**as love being another man's judge and jury! Ni**as procrastinate until it's time to worry! Ni**as love to be late, ni**as hate to hurry!
I can't front, cartoon King had a number of points in there. Before walking off of the podium, King dropped this final truth nugget: "I've seen what's around the corner, I've seen what's over the horizon, and I promise you - you ni**as won't have nothing to celebrate. And no, I won't get there with you. I'm going to Canada."
Mic... dropped. And it was with that truth bomb that King exited to Canada, leaving Black folk angry and ready to take it back to the wokeness of the 1960s. That's actually what led to Oprah Winfrey getting elected to the office of President of the United States, in 2020.
It was a regularly awesome episode of The Boondocks, and while not the greatest episode of the series, one that caused a lot of controversy in the mainstream. Why? Well, King, one of the most revered Civil Rights figures, did drop the N-word a number of times during his speech. Rev. Al Sharpton took it upon himself to use this moment to not only call out the episode, but McGruder's series as a whole. "Cartoon Network must apologize and also commit to pulling episodes that desecrate Black historic figures," Sharpton said in a statment about the episode after it first aired. "We are totally offended by the continuous use of the N-word in McGruder's show." Cartoon Network (who distributed Adult Swim, which aired The Boondocks) stuck up for the episode and McGruder in general. They first said the episode "in no way was meant to offend or 'desecrate'" before sticking up for McGruder.
"We think Aaron McGruder came up with a thought-provoking way of not only showing Dr. King's bravery," Cartoon Network continued, "but also of reminding us of what he stood and fought for, and why even today, it is important for all of us to remember that and to continue to take action." Sounds like facts to me, and clearly others agreed as McGruder and company took home a Peabody Award during their 2006 ceremony.
During his acceptance speech, McGruder initially joked "that could have gone really bad" when referencing the episode. After thanking the board, he remarked on how he and his team had a lot of fun working on this episode, saying how it was "cool to have the power to speak in Dr. King's voice." McGruder also spent time thanking Adult Swim and Sony for their support and the creative control they gave him over the program.
Again, this is far from the most controversial episode of The Boondocks; two episodes ("The Hunger Strike" and "The Uncle Ruckus Reality Show") ended up being banned from airing due to their vicious takedowns of BET. Those episodes, as does this one with King, prove that when it came to keeping it real with the series, McGruder and his squad weren't backing down. While "Return of the King" took place in an alternative reality, keep it a buck: he wasn't saying anything Black folk haven't thought about before. And instead of taking King completely out of character and having him smack people, McGruder let him drop proverbial pops to the back of everyone's heads, for the culture. Sometimes, you need that slap upside the head to help kickstart the revolution.