A Character Case Study of The Boondocks: Robert “Granddad” Freeman

No one really knows how old Robert “Granddad” Freeman is.  What we know is that he is the grandfather of both Huey and Riley Freeman who has taken on the parental responsibility of raising his grandkids.  The entire show, he never mentions Huey and Riley’s parents or begin to deal at all with them.  Robert lives out in the Chicago suburbs where his neighbors are the DuBois family and his good friend Uncle Ruckus.  He drives and old school car and frequently talks about getting him a woman, often times referring to them as “bitches.”

Frankly, I have a problem with Robert Freeman.

The problem I have with Robert Freeman isn’t the same issues that I have with the Huey and Riley, automatically one assumes various complexities and dynamics with both Huey and Riley and their various interactions, but Robert’s character, while not one-dimensional still comes off as dramatically straightfoward.  Uncomfortably, Robert comes off as painfully old-school in his mentality toward life and guiding principles that affect his everyday life and irritatingly misogynistic toward black women.  Throughout the seasons and episodes, Robert allows the word “bitches” flow from his mouth too freely for me–particularly in the presence of an eight and ten year old that he was raising.  Ultimately, my main contention with Robert’s character is his generally passive demeanor in the face of the egregious social ills that Huey is so apt at perceiving.

For a character study, I would like to pick the scene from the recent episode “Pause” and a reach back to season one’s “The Passion of Reverend Ruckus” and “The Story of Thugnificent.”

Robert being told to deny Ice Cube while submitting to Winston Jerome in the "Pause" episode

In the “Pause” episode, Robert’s character goes so far as to engage in homosexual acts just to get some women–whom he does refer to ultimately as bitches.  He seems, at times to serial date women as was expressed in the “Attack of the Killer Kung Fu Wolf Bitch” with the internet dates, and in season one’s “Guess Hoe’s Coming To Dinner” where Robert went all out for a woman who was a hoe, “owned” by A Pimp Named Slickback.  What it showed to me was that Robert had no problem objectifying women, and specifically women who fit a particular image of beauty in his mind–he wasn’t interested in women that weren’t considered attractive by society standards.  As in “Pause” he was caught looking at a woman’s breasts and he asked Winston Jerome for the “Beyonces and the Alicia Keyeses.”

Robert’s interesting passiveness was more uniquely displayed in “The Passion of Reverend Ruckus” after he watched his self-loathing checkers buddy Uncle Ruckus undergo the process of promoting a message of self-hate by blacks: in order to go to heaven, one must renounce the sin of black skin and ultimately “Praise white Jesus” unashamedly.  The second story line was about a black man who was falsely accused of being a cop killer, despite the satirized evidence saying he was empirically not the killer, he was sitting on death row and facing the electric chair.  Huey had promised to break him out of jail that night, but needed a ride–a ride that his grandfather denied him in order to save his friend Uncle Ruckus.

What resulted was Huey praying for a miracle, and a lightening bolt striking Uncle Ruckus who had essentially declared that if he wasn’t preaching the right gospel that a lightening bolt come and strike him–which it did.  But this lightening bolt knocked out the power and ultimately saved the guy on death row and allowed for the stay of execution.

Meanwhile Robert just stood in the crowd.

The whole time, Robert did nothing.  Although he knew what Uncle Ruckus was doing was wrong, he did nothing to stop him but merely stood from a distance and allowed events to take their course.  This bothers me about Robert.  He’s quick to complain about a situation that really means something, but does nothing meaningful to change said situation.  He can be aware of the moral and ethical problems of a situation, but assumes no moral agency to do something about the situation past complaining about it.  The situations that he does affect change are those that on macrocosmic scale, as my mother says, don’t amount to “a pimple on the ass of time.”  That is evidenced in the episode “The Story of Thugnificent” where Robert files a complaint with the police against the gangster rapper and his rap crew Lethal Injection move across the street.  It is also where Robert’s old school mentality rears its ugly head.

Granted Thugnificent is all kinds of wrong that would warrant a blog post unto itself, but I’m discussing Robert’s reactions here.  His reaction toward Thugnificent is indicative of many of the older generations reactions toward the hip hop culture and most certainly the post-hip hop generation.  He even doesn’t invite the rapper to have dinner with him because he prejudges his actions feeling that he would be disrespectful in his house, and ultimately never gives him a chance or himself a chance to get to know his new neighbor.

*****************************

I will admit it took me a while to get past the voicing of of Robert by John Witherspoon because for me he’s always played a character that took the coonin’ aspects just a bit too far for my tastes.  From his roles in the “Friday” movies to him as Pops on “The Wayan’s Brothers” to other bit parts he’s played over the years in movies and sit-coms, it’s always the same typical character–being loud, obnoxious and more or less doing something wildly inappropriate = coonin’. Once I got past that aural disconncect of John Witherspoon versus Robert Freeman not being a stereotypical coonin’ character, I realised that I still didn’t like his character, for the reasons I outlined above.

While Robert Freeman’s character is clearly a good-hearted and well-intentioned individual, I always cringe at some of his actions because I can’t help but wonder what role-modeling does this do for either of his grandsons.  Neither Huey nor Riley in any real way turn to their grandfather for true advice.  If anything they are bailing him out of a situation (such as in “Pause”), Huey gives the best advice toward his grandfather as to how to handle a situation (e.g. it was Huey’s idea to have Robert and Thugnificent meet before the diss song was released or that Granddad meeting Lula in “AOTKKFWB” was a bad idea because he knew nothing about her) and off of the top of my head I can’t remember an episode where either Huey or Riley specifically went to their grandfather with a problem.

In fact, it’s almost a borderline disrespect, or perhaps lack thereof, that they have for their grandfather.

Huey always has a book in his hand and often times dismisses whatever avuncular advice their grandfather dispenses–and I can’t blame him, it’s usually terrible advice.  And Riley’s character at times engages the bad advice that their grandfather gives out, and somehow garners the wrong lessons about life, such as in the “Guess Hoe’s Coming to Dinner” where Riley freely refers to Cristal as a “hoe” and surmises some interesting conclusions about male and female relationship based on his grandfather’s interaction with Cristal and what Riley now understands a “hoe” to be.  This results in Huey just acknowledging that their grandfather is merely a means provider: food, clothing and shelter and exists as a non-entity in most other aspects.

Its unsettling, for me personally, that this is the image of the elders.  Granted elders can be very much out of touch with contemporary reality, and I’m okay with that imaging, but, personally, I must ask when does the reflection of the stereotype begin to be reworked into creating an archetype?  Throughout the entire cast on The Boondocks, none of the elders (albeit only two of them Uncle Ruckus and Robert Freeman) exist as some pinnacle of sagacity.  Even Stinkmeaner, who was an elderly man, was a bat out of hell–literally!  And so was his crew who came back in season three and they were imaged as the 1970s sitcom characters Sanford, Aunt Esther and JJ (although their characters in this episode were completely unrelated to their likeness) were imaged as old persons, who clearly were in no position to be venerated.

Is this where we have arrived in the black community?

I think so. But I think its a dual problem.  Old mentalities and old school approaches to new school problems sufficiently painted our elders in a corner–and this was their own doing.  Historically of course that generation gap has always existed, but particularly in the Information Age, that gap has widened at an even quicker pace.  The fear of “the other” whether the other is another race of people, or simply knowing about Twitter should not stand in the way of progress.  We must overcome our internal fears and our communal fears in order to move forward.  Our failure to do so will be one of the many cogs in the machine intent on our destruction.

What is your take on Robert Freeman’s character on The Boondocks?  Do you think my analysis was on point or a bit skewed?

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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8 responses to “A Character Case Study of The Boondocks: Robert “Granddad” Freeman

  1. I can see why many are offended by this cartoon; however, I do not believe that it is meant to be offensive. I believe that this cartoon is a satire, by being so it is not giving examples on how to act. I’m not saying that there is no one who will mimic the behavior as seen on this show but most people will not. The person who does mimic the behavior would be doing something else just as if not more intellectually irresponsible and ignorant.
    Some may believe that this show attacks the African community but by saying that you would have to admit that it attacks the Caucasian community also. Both set of races are equally portrayed as being equally imbecilic and nonsensical. You have some of your facts wrong about the show, Granddad does not engage in homosexual acts.

    I am a middle class African/Caucasian/Native American. I’m sick of Africans always acting like they are under attack from Caucasian and thereby creating attacks on Caucasians. I’m sick of the few ignorant Caucasians creating racial tensions. In both the African and Caucasian communities I generally stand in the middle because of my ethnicity. I am most proud of my Native American roots because of these reasons, but that does not mean I am not proud of my African and Caucasian roots. I am very proud of my parents to be able to of gotten over these asinine prejudices while some are still stuck in the past.

    • @ Naomi

      He kissed Winston Jerome in the play–that was another man, hence it was a homosexual act.

      And I think it’s interesting you refer to black people as Africans.

  2. The cartoon is a WARNING TO BLACK PPL. Robert”GrandDad” Freeman= the stereotypical blk man that calls women bitches loves expensive rims ect.. Tom=the uncle toms that are plaguing our community right now,Uncle Ruckus=The self hating negroes that are plaguing the black community right now.Riley=The victim of racism & white supremacy through the media.Huey=The conscious black person that knows their self & is not fooled-hes the revolutionary black person. His character is named after Huey P.Newton of the black panther party.

    • I think this reply is the truest in response to this article.

      I also have been watching Boondocks the TV series in addition to having read many of the comic strips of Boondocks in my local newspaper.

      It is most definitely a warning in a subconscious, symbolic manner which is necessary. In many ways, all three of the main characters are the same person.

      This is what I get from the show, anyway.

    • Robert does call women bitches as a habit, hell Ruckus doesn’t even do that. Mr. Bitches is a nick name RILEY gave him to feel cool, Riley got the rims on his Car by getting Xibit to Pimp the Ride, Robert is just an old black man who wants peace & harmony. Many of the traits you all are throwing on Robert are actually faults of Thugnificent & his crew including Riley & Ed III. Robert is old school, even in how he treats women, he is kind to all of them. But the liers deserve what they get. Nothing is more frustraying than meeting a women online who hides her fat body, are shows her face at certain angles only to meet the female in person & you are not attracted to her…its the worse.

  3. I think this is a very insightful portrayal of Robert Freeman, and I whole-heartedly agree with you. I do think in certain ways Robert is a much older version of Riley, referring to women as b****es so freely and always wanting them to hurl themselves at him. I think Robert also embodies the negative stereotype of black men as polygamous and not taking responsibility for their progeny (or in this case, his grandsons).

  4. I honestly feel you are waaaaaay off about Robert & honestly feel you have not watched the series enough times. Robert doesn’t hate women. Most of the women he meets have some sort of mental issue. I think he treated Christal, Luna & Ebony fairly & just. Infact he was in tears when Christal left him for her pimp. He smoothered Ebony forcing her to leave. Can he be a dumb negro? Yes. I’ve never seen Huey disrespect Robert & Robert has given Riley man beatings for his bad behavior.

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