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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Cartoon Network Accused of Ripping Off ‘Black Jesus’

Saying that Cartoon Network’s “Black Jesus” rips off one of his short stories, a Brooklyn writer has brought a federal complaint demanding $75 million.

MANHATTAN (CN) -  Saying that Cartoon Network’s “Black Jesus” rips off one of his short stories, a Brooklyn writer has brought a federal complaint demanding $75 million.

Laying out 12 points of comparison in his March 29 complaint, Randy Brown closes with the parallel that both his and Cartoon Network’s Jesuses “personify the negative stereotypical idiosyncrasies of the black community by drinking malt liquor and with their public use of the ’n’ word.’”

Cartoon Network began airing its live-action “Black Jesus” series in 2014 as part of its late-night, Adult Swim programming. Brown says the series is clearly adapted from "Thank You, Jesus,” an 18-page short story he published under the pen name Saint Solomon. The story appeared in a 1999 collection called "Uncle Sam’s Nieces and Nephews.”

Brown notes that the Jesus in his story becomes homeless at the end, and that Cartoon Network’s "Black Jesus" picks up from there, with its Jesus living in a broken-down van.

In addition to the similarities of both protagonists being black, homeless men named Jesus who think they are the son of God, the complaint identifies various similarities among the supporting characters.

Both Jesuses have have friends who are “always scheming for a quick way to make a lot of money."

Cartoon Network’s show stole the late-night Thursday slot when it premiered in 2014, drawing more than 2 million viewers. Credited to “Boondocks” creator Aaron McGruder and Mike Clattenberg, the series stars Gerald "Slink" Johnson as the titular Black Jesus and also features comedians Charlie Murphy and John Witherspoon.

Brown's lawsuit calls the show "more like a crude transcription service merely redrafting and adapting plaintiff’s depiction of his Black Jesus character, Speedy character, and plot."

The writer says he has been unable to expand his short story into a full novel in the wake of the successful premiere of "Black Jesus.” Brown is represented by Dimitrios Kourouklis in New York City.

In addition to Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, McGruder and Clattenburg, the complaint names as defendants parent companies Time Warner, Turner Broadcasting System and Williams Street Productions. None has returned a request for comment.

McGruder described the origin of the early short sketches for what would become the "Black Jesus" series in a 2014 interview with Vice. “The shorts were mostly just Jesus sitting around with his homeboys running his mouth ... We went out and got a $20 Halloween costume, and then just started doing a lot of riffing and ad-libbing to find the character.”

McGruder's previous series, "The Boondocks,” won a Peabody Award in 2006 for its episode "Return of the King,” in which  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wakes from a 32-year coma, only to be both shocked and disappointed with the current state of social affairs.

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