At a time when many are struggling to properly address racial injustice and how to educate others on the topic, Hulu’s “Woke” does a rather fine job of illustrating at least part of the Black experience in America. The original series tackles issues like racial identity and culture through an absurdly irreverent lens.
The eight-episode dramedy starts off with a simple message, “Inspired by one experience, shared by many.” What is this in reference to? Is it the trauma following a racist incident with belligerent police? The various microaggressions in the workplace? The whitewashing of Black artists in the media? The fetishization of Black men? “Woke” touches upon all of these topics, and more.
Lamorne Morris, who is prominently known for his role as Winston on “New Girl,” stars as Keef Knight, a Black cartoonist whose uncontroversial and popular cartoon “Toast & Butter” is about to get regularly published in newspapers nationwide. However, Knight is traumatized and becomes sensitive to racism following a racist incident with overaggressive police.
Knight, who at first is comfortable with his uncontroversial work appealing to all audiences and prefers to keep it “light,” is now “Woke” and battles an internal struggle with his racial identity. How does he address this incident when he always thought “I just didn’t think it would happen to me”?
Why do we decide to stop being complicit once the problem directly affects us?
That’s what Knight struggles with throughout the show. He starts wondering whether or not he has to be an activist because he’s Black, or if it’s okay for him to continue to fly under the radar and produce cartoons that appeal to, specifically, White audiences.
What this show excels at is being both subtle and in-your-face at the same time. During the incident with the police, Knight sees his White roommate, Gunther, angrily approach and reprimand the police, who explicitly holster their guns. Knight later comments that if Gunther were Black, he would have been shot. In another scene, Knight is riding the bus home when a White passenger expresses his praise toward “Toast & Butter.” After Knight admits that he’s the creator of the comic strip, the passenger awkwardly skirts around the subject by saying “You know, it’s funny, I didn’t think you’d be … tall,” instead of saying “Black.”
“What this show excels at is being both subtle and in-your-face at the same time.”
The clever use of animation sets the show apart from others. Following the incident with the police, Knight starts seeing and hearing things as inanimate objects come to life and start talking to him. At a convenience store, a couple bottles of alcohol start talking to him. On the street, angry trash expresses his contempt as Knight struggles to figure out what’s real and what’s not. The most important of these objects is Knight’s marker, voiced by J. B. Smoove, who constantly argues with him, saying he needs to draw cartoons that explore racial injustice and the Black experience. These cartoons come to life, constantly pushing Knight to say or do something about the racial injustice that occurs in everyday life.
The use of these animated objects is a clever method of illustrating Knight’s identity struggle. It’s a creative way to help the audience understand the conflicting ideas and emotions within him.
At the time of writing, I’ve only watched five episodes, but I think this show is not just directed toward White audiences to educate them on everyday racial issues in our society, but it’s also directed toward Black and other marginalized groups to resonate with them and say, “We know what it’s like.” This show is brave, both creatively and thematically, and it’s just what we need right now.
Don’t sleep on this show, stay “Woke.”