“Wizard of Watts” Racial Commentary Gets Especially Topical

If you’re keen on campy ’70s-style battles against ninjas, Nixon, and Bill Cosby, or phrases like “special appearance by Erykah Badu,” then you should probably tune in to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim this Saturday for the premiere of “The Wizard of Watts.” A special musical episode of the animated series sprung from 2009’s blaxploitation spoof “Black Dynamite,” “Watts” threads its political commentary through a parody of the “Wizard of Oz,” as its title suggests (see: the plight of the oppressed “Rodney Munchkings”). And while some of its images feel especially topical in today’s “I Can’t Breathe” climate — for example, the anthropomorphized pig in riot gear who melts in the face of camcorder footage, wailing “Oh, no! Not an irrefutable visual record of my illegal actions!” that would seem as direct a response as any to the lack of indictment for Daniel Pantaleo — given that the film took two years to produce, its recall is more a matter of fortuitous timing. “I take pride in tackling things with my gloves off, but animation takes such a long time to produce that you usually don’t end up being all that current,” creator Carl Jones told the New York Times.

Of course, race inequality was always going to be relevant; while the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have served as a flashpoint for protest against police brutality, it’s not like that kind of systemic oppression just popped up last month. Still, that can only make talking about these issues across all available media — including, yes, spoof-laden musicals on Cartoon Network — all the more urgent. “I think there is a racial temperature in this country that has reached a boiling point,” said Jones, “and the more we as artists can shine a light and make people talk about it, the better off we are going to all be.”

(In that vein, be sure to check out Smack Mellon’s “RESPOND,” opening on January 17, a group exhibition for which the gallery put their schedule on hold in order to present art relevant to issues of institutionalized racism — or according to the gallery site, “to channel our outrage into actions that can facilitate systemic change.”)

— Anneliese Cooper (@DawnDavenport)

(Image via HumorMillMag.com)