Aaron McGruder’s ‘Black Jesus’ Is ‘Controversial’ For The Wrong Reason


Black Jesus doesn’t aim to mock Christianity but rather show a face to the hypocrisy

In the week since Black Jesus leapt from YouTube sketch to fully-formed series (created by Aaron McGruder), there’ve been grumblings, planned boycotts and an op-ed piece in Time asking for focus on more serious topics. That piece, dated August 8, came days before the phrases “Ferguson” and “Mike Brown” were added to the long history of police brutality, civil and racial transgressions in America.

Thinking of Black Jesus as anything other than a 22-minute satire of our predisposed thoughts of what Christ should be like should be minute. Much like anything that dignifies itself away from the norm, Black Jesus will be a talking point of controversy throughout its first season, but for the wrong reasons.

I, like many, could be considered a fan of Aaron McGruder. Most of us determined the detriment of The Boondocks fourth season to be in accord with his absence. Black Jesus, for those not in the know, follows the Son Of God, plops him in modern-day Compton and makes him as humanistic as can be: smoking, turning wine into cognac. Judging from the show’s first two episodes, it plays into community stereotypes from all races.

Black Jesus doesn’t aim to mock Christianity but rather show a face to the hypocrisy found in some practitioners. Jesus, as a man, befriended harlots and thieves. Was it a mockery when he raised them to become better? The title character’s message hasn’t lost the same touch as it did some 2,000 years ago. Jesus (Gerald “Slink” Johnson) offers kindness to a homeless man played by John Witherspoon, who only wants the lotto numbers for a quick ascension out of his misery. “I love you too,” Jesus yells, frustrated at the man’s act. “By default, fool!”

The show is the latest to walk with a reimagined Christ. South Park has done it since its inception 17 years ago. Tyler Perry reimagines Bible verses for jokes when in drag as Madea. Still, when you’re discussing Jesus in the black community (Black Jesus viewers are predominantly black), you’re discussing their Jesus, the one as an older black woman on the show openly displayed, “trust with her car and her money.”

The issues with Black Jesus as a concept, according to those knee-deep in religious and conservative overtones is all about depiction. Those arguing for accuracy have long decided to omit the fact that Hollywood has constantly casted whites as Egyptians, moors and more. By comparison, Ridley Scott’s upcoming film about Moses, Exodus: Gods & Kings should earn the same amount of spite and protest from those same religious groups. But it’s entertainment, and when entertainment doesn’t immediately scare or cause one to think outside of already established tones, it creates a precedent nobody even challenges.

Two million people saw the debut episode of Black Jesus last Thursday, with similar numbers expected to watch it again this week. For a show that plays on those “I wish He would…” conversations many have daily, why focus energy denouncing it? McGruder’s main reach of comedy has been holding a mirror up to sections of people. To him, it’s the black church’s turn to see themselves through the eyes of his comical twist on the Lord and Savior.

Black Jesus airs on Adult Swim on Thursdays at 11 p.m.