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What is the actual true story behind Woke? How does it represent Keith Knight’s life?

Co-created by acclaimed cartoonist Keith Knight, Woke is a semi-autobiographical dramedy about Knight’s life, but what did the show change from its real-life inspiration? Starring New Girl’s Lamorne Morris, Woke follows the story of Keef Knight, a cartoonist whose comic strip Toast and Butter traffic in warm, fuzzy relatable humor with no bite, satirical edge, or social conscience. Despite being a black creator, the show’s Knight has no interest in making any political statements with his art – at first, at least. But a brutal encounter with racist cops soon throws his worldview into disarray.

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The real-life Keith Knight is not known for having full-blown conversations with inanimate objects like trashcans, Sesame Street-style. So why does he talk to a Cedric the Entertainer-voiced rubbish receptacle on the series? Woke endeavors to use surrealism to talk about race relations in America, and in an interview (via LA Times) Knight claimed that inanimate objects made a perfect stand-in for voicing these satirical barbs as he didn’t want them attributed to a specific character.

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There’s a long history of artists using surrealism to illustrate the reality of race in America, a tradition that dates back to Ishmael Reed’ 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo. Surreal social commentary can be seen in the Tethered of Jordan Peele’s Us, and Woke’s talking trashcans make for a superb addition to this canon. They function as a subversive parody of Sesame Street-style educational television where the objects doing the educating are distinctly adult, like an animated Olde English bottle.

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Of course, the points they’re making are aimed at an adult audience too, with these angry objects explaining topics like gentrification to Morris’ Knight and urging the show’s hero to fight the power instead of accepting the status quo.

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