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Hulu's 'Woke' explores a black cartoonist's PTSD with talking trash cans & magical realism

By Tara Bennett

Hulu’s new comedy series, Woke, uses cartoonist Keith Knight’s life as the basis for the surreal, semi-autobiographical tale of how the police falsely arresting him in broad daylight flips the creator’s life upside down. 

Actor Lamorne Morris (The New Girl) plays Keef Knight, a cartoonist on the brink of blowing up to the mainstream when a random moment of police brutality calls his entire life as a black creative into question. At today’s CTAM Hulu press day, the show’s executive producers Marshall Todd, Maurice “Mo” Marable, Keith Knight and Jay Dyer (sans Morris due to a personal emergency) assembled to talk about the timeliness of their story. 

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Woke - Trailer (Official) • A Hulu Original

In the series, as Knight processes the aftermath, he sees everyday objects come to life and talk to him about how he now sees the world differently. Anything from his cartoon characters, to malt liquor bottles to a trash can (voiced by Cedric the Entertainer) provoke him throughout his days. “They’re real to Keef and they speak to him,” co-creator Marshall Todd told reporters. “The animations are his inner self communicating with him, if you will. It’s his manifestation of PTSD.”

“In my strips, I have inanimate objects that come to life,” Keith explained. “Everyone has their own 'woke' journey so for a cartoonist to have the objects talking to himself makes sense. And I love that you don’t where it’s going to come next. It’s like The Sixth Sense in that you don’t know where the next ghost is coming.”

Those objects are visually represented by Keith Knight’s art which is then animated by Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, along with practical puppeteering. “We wanted to ground [the series] in its absurdity and that was figuring out how to bring these characters to life,” director Mo Marable said. “So we decided to do puppetry and real life objects. It’s a real trash can with a real puppeteer and it makes a real big difference how you see inside Keith’s mind.” 

Voicing the objects throughout the season are Keith David, Nicole Byer, Cree Summer, Tony Hale, JB Smoove and more.

Knight credits Marable with the visual execution of the “voices” in the series: “He brought that to the table and the magical reality is what makes the show special.” Going back to their initial meetings, Knight says Marable’s “look book” for the series was full of visual references to Amelie and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Do The Right Thing. “These we all movies I love and he seemed to get [me] in a way few people do.”

Lamorne Morris in Woke

As a collective of black creators, Knight says they’re all excited that the show opens a window on black nerd culture, and that they can say some serious things in a comedic package. “Black nerds have been around forever. We’ve just never got a shot to tell our stories. We want to make you laugh, think, do something and speak up.” Todd adds, “In the black community, [black nerds] are not a secret. But this is a show that finally shows us in our true light.”

Woke premieres September 9, 2020 on Hulu

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