Just about everyone in Black Jesus is selfish. But Black Jesus still has faith.
Jesus’ flawed, albeit loyal friends (disciples?)—ex-con Fish (Andra Fuller), slacker Jason (Antwon Tanner), gal-pal Maggie (Kali Hawk) and drunkard Boonie (Corey Holcomb)—his curmudgeonly neighbor Vic (Charlie Murphy); even Lloyd, the conniving and cantankerous homeless drunk played by John Witherspoon. They all spent most of the first few episodes trying to get something from Jesus—or to get him to do something for them—whether it was drug-swap serendipity, relationship advice or winning-lottery tickets.
But as expected, Jesus—portrayed with aplomb by Gerald “Slink” Johnson—looks past those imperfections, using them instead as opportunities to spread his gospel of love, kindness and compassion.
And that’s essentially the ethos at the core of the latest table-shake from The Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder.
Jesus is a cursing, 40-ounce-guzzling, weed-smoking, permed brother living and ministering in Compton, Calif. Less satire than courageous comedy, Black Jesus is an unorthodox interpretation of a very familiar Son of God. One who, unsurprisingly, has ruffled a few feathers. In the runup to the show’s premiere a month ago, there were petitions and calls for the show’s cancellation from believers who’d taken it as a crass desecration of the Messiah’s image.
But my hunch is that they reached that conclusion based on a two-minute trailer released before the show aired, denouncing Black Jesus a mockery even though McGruder’s Jesus doesn’t really commit any sins.
He drinks, but he’s not a drunk. Rather than taking the Lord’s name in vain, he swears “to Pops,” instead. And once you get past some cursing and smoking a little kush, it’s clear that at the core, this is Jesus as you’ve always known him, he just looks different: He’s come back, he’s black and he’s living among his people—an uncomfortable scenario, perhaps, for a society that has typically viewed Jesus through an antiseptic—and usually white—lens.
But it’s not a stretch, at all, to situate Jesus as a (somewhat) regular guy living in the hood, says the show’s executive producer, Robert Eric Wise.
“Look,” he tells Vice, “if we go back 2014 years ago to Judea, that was the hood. In fact, Judea was so much of a hood that Rome sent Pontius Pilate, the biggest thug governor in the empire, to manage it. Which means Compton right now is nowhere near as rough as Judea back then, and—even though it sounds funny to say—the real biblical and historical Jesus was born and raised in the hood.”
And when you look at it like that, what’s blasphemous about reimagining Jesus as a guy people can relate to?
Sure, he turns water into wine—GAC—at the cookout, but that’s only so that he can get the gluttons to pay attention long enough to hear his message about letting God into their hearts. He might chill over a joint with his not-quite apostles, but it’s only so they can plan how they’re going to establish a community garden to supply their neighbors with veggies—and themselves with more weed.
He convinces his friend Jason to straighten up his act and do better by his girlfriend, even though she’s an atheist who despises him; and scolds him when vanity (“You know that's a sin, right?”) peeks through over a pair of prematurely ruined Air Jordans.
He mediates a feud (and a shootout) between blacks and Latinos, and even professes love to Lloyd after being cursed for not giving up the winning Lotto numbers.
This is the Jesus we’ve always known—he just looks and sounds a little different. Those who prematurely condemned the show should step back and examine what it is that truly makes them uncomfortable. Last I checked, it’s not the job of believers to mold Jesus into the image they’re most comfortable with and approve of, but the opposite.
“Have some f—kin’ faith, Bruh!” Jesus says in the second episode. He sees the real end game, and I think perhaps McGruder does, too.
Black Jesus airs Thursdays on Adult Swim at 11 p.m. Eastern.
Aaron Randle is a Howard-bred writer living in Kansas City, Mo.