In Woke, Lamorne Morris plays Keef, a Black cartoonist who is on the verge of success. He is aware of his cultural identity, but doesn’t want it to define him but when he has an unfortunate run-in with the police while minding his own business, things change. At TCA, Hulu released the first trailer of the comedy and co-creators and executive producers Keith Knight and Marshall Todd were joined by director Maurice “Mo” Marable and showrunner Jay Dyer to talk about how the series takes a look at racial identity from a different angle.
The comedy is inspired by the life and work of Knight and although there are tons of laughs and absurdity in the series, it thoughtfully unpacks the experience of Black creatives and whether or not they have to be relevant and timely and just make art. Knight said that many artists are “in it” all the time and that they just want to create something funny because that is how many deal with issues they face.
“It’s a valid thing to have some sort of escapism,” he said, but then added there are artists that burdened and they feel they have to say something with their work. “At this moment, I think it is important to say something with their work.”
Marable chimed in, “I would say the balance of being a Black artist and an artist that happens to be Black is always the creative fight.”
Even though the topic of racial profiling and struggle with identity is heavy, the tone of the series is light and comedic — something that is evident throughout the eight episodes. The panel points out that comedy is a great vehicle to teach.
“The show is an extension of my comics,” said Knight. “I use humor to address serious issues. The cartoons bring people in. We make you laugh and when you’re not looking we punch you in the face with something hardcore.”
“And there’s gonna be a lot of punching in the face coming up,” Dyer added, “What happens to Keef is very serious and we are going to address the trauma as the series progresses.”
As mentioned, the series is based on Knight’s experiences and he shares that when it happened to him, it sent him on a journey. “I have been doing comics on police brutality, but once it happens it to you, it’s different — it’s intense,” he said. “It made me double and triple down on the work I was doing.”
In addition, Keef struggles with other people’s perception of him not being Black enough, an issue that is also explored in the series. “When you are an artist — and you’re not a conventional artist and you’re Black, you tend to get put in a different category,” said Marable. “Not only from the people you are working with, but from your own community. Black artists traditionally not supported in the industry when you are doing something that is not conventional — you’re Blackness will come into play. Everybody on this panel has felt the stigma of that. They have been called not Black enough because we are not always in the world of Blackness and not always talking about Black issues.”
The series was completed before the pandemic and before the events after George Floyd’s death but with the topics it explores, it definitely speaks to the times. However, the panel agreed that at the end of the day, the show explores issues that will be evergreen. “The story has been told over and over again and hopefully we put a modern spin on it and people will learn something from it,” said Marable.
Towards the end of the panel, Knight addressed how many equate geek culture with whiteness and how that isn’t the case. “That is a mirage,” he said. “American culture is Black culture — that’s really what it is. If you even scrape the surface of the history of this country, you will see Black people have had a part of everything.”
Woke drops on Hulu on September 9. was developed by Knight and Todd. Dyer and Marable serve as co-creators alongside Aeysha Carr, Richie Schwartz, John Will, Will Gluck and Eric Christian Olsen. Kate Schumaecker served as executive producer on the pilot. The series is a co-production between ABC Studios and Sony Pictures Television Inc.