One of Spike Lee’s best films is Bamboozled, a scathing satire of the ways in which major media exploit and encourage degrading stereotypes of African Americans.
In the film, a network convinces a black academic that he can help drain such stereotypes of their power by “appropriating” them in his own TV comedy program. Naively, he agrees, and creates a show that trots out and uses all the most offensive portrayals of black Americans over the decades, from slave “mammys” in bandannas to “Tom Shows” and blackface minstrels.
Little pickannies fight over slices of watermelon, and shiftless, slack-jawed black men devour buckets of fried chicken. And white America is delighted. The show becomes an enormous hit, not because it skewers racism but in fact because it feeds it–and its creator refuses to see the truth. He keeps the show going, which has made him suddenly wealthy, and pretends not to see how his program is poisoning the culture.
The makers of AdultSwim’s Black Jesus have apparently seen Bamboozled, but drawn the wrong lesson from it. All that they took away from the film was the part about “racist stereotypes can make you rich.”
This new program, whose first episode aired August 7, combines every squalid image of black Americans ever scraped from the bottom of a cracker barrel, and slaps it all together in a comedy that insults most of America: The 78 percent who consider themselves Christian, the 15 percent or so that is African American, with an extra gob of spit in the face for the vast majority of blacks who are also Christians. I know people who have been in on TV pitch meetings, so I can picture how this one went. In fact, here’s a likely transcript:
Producer: “We’ve got this idea for a show. It’s about Jesus, but get this–he’s black.”
Executive: “You mean like an Ethiopian? Instead of Jewish?”
Producer: “No, no. A modern ghetto black guy. You know, like you see on those rap videos.”
Executive: “So it’s set in the present?”
Producer: “Yeah, yeah, in L.A. What’s that neighborhood where all those people live… Compton! I remember that Ice T mentioned that place in a song.”
Executive: “So how else is Jesus different?”
Producer: “Well, because he’s black, he’s not this profound, moralistic preacher running around to tell people to change their lives and get ready for the coming of the Kingdom, or whatever. He’s… chill. He smokes weed, hangs out on the porch, goes around in a low-rider car, uses words like ‘f**k’ and ‘sh*t.’ When his apostles want to score some drugs, he helps them make the buy–and then when it goes down wrong, he helps them to grow their own. But he teaches them to be a little bit nicer, you know. He’s spreading a gospel of kindness in the ‘hood.'”
Executive: “And you think people are gonna go for this? We’ll get lots of heat from the Bible thumpers.”
Producer: “That’s GOOD. Free PR for us–we’ll be denounced as ‘blasphemous’ and ‘disrespectful,’ which will get all the free speech and ACLU types to rally behind us. And nothing gets viewers more curious about something than a scandal.”
Executive: “But won’t… black people get upset? I mean, the show essentially says that if Jesus were black, he would have been a lazy, unemployable drug-user, instead of the Messiah.”
Producer: “No way. We’ve got nothing to worry about. Just get a few black faces as the spokesmen at the press conference, and insist that it’s all in good fun… a ‘representation of the contemporary urban African-American reality’ or some sh*t like that. Did you see Spike Lee’s Bamboozled? I’ll get you a copy. This will totally work.”
I didn’t actually plant recording devices at the offices of Adult Swim, so I can’t be SURE that this is how the meeting went. But the show that resulted is every bit as offensive to black Americans, Christian or not, as a blackface minstrel show that sings the praises of slavery.
We hope that Americans will boycott both the show and the network until this degrading and stupid show is canceled. It has no place in a diverse America that values each human person based on the “content of his character.”
John Zmirak is co-author, with Jason Jones, of the new book The Race to Save Our Century: Five Core Principles to Promote Peace, Freedom, and a Culture of Life.