Across 52 episodes and a TV movie, The Proud Family's main protagonist, Penny Proud (voiced by Kyla Pratt), often found herself successfully navigating through the usual experiences of growing up — thanks largely to her feisty personality and the outlandish antics of her family and friends. The California-suburbanite adventures depicted on the Disney animated sitcom took usual TV tropes and provided a modern spin on the black teenage experience (akin to Moesha, That's So Raven, or Pratt's very own live-action comedy, One on One).
Whether that was learning the consequences of music piracy through the Napster-spoof, "EZ Jackster," letting fame get to her head after forming her Destiny's Child-inspired group LPDZ, eating her father's foul tasting Proud Snacks, or being grounded for wearing revealing outfits and gyrating at a dance contest broadcasted worldwide on "Hip-Hop Helicopter," Penny and her crew were always up to something. As black teenagers in the early 2000s experienced their own versions of these pop culture phenomenons in real life, Penny and The Proud Family's animated world were quick to offer nostalgia-based commentaries that elevated the sitcom to a bastion of black TV. But there was one episode of the two-season show that occupied these realities the most: "Behind Family Lines."
"If there's going to be a family battle, I need back up," are the defiant words that come out the mouth of the show's egotistical patriarch, Oscar Proud (Tommy Davidson) to his wife, Trudy Parker (Paula Jai Parker). Although Oscar ignites the episode's main conflict, by inviting his boisterous, drop-top convertible riding cousins Ray Ray (Anthony Anderson) and Boonetta Proud (Academy Award winner Mo'Nique) to a baptism, it's Penny who is ultimately thrusted in the middle of her feuding families. Both Oscar and Trudy's respective relatives (who are in town for their fraternal twins', Bebe and Cece's, baptism) happen to be on opposite ends of the socio-economic and educational spectrum which exists in most families. While Ray Ray and Boonetta don't mind blasting instrumentals that resemble Dr. Dre's "Still D.R.E.," Trudy's smart-SUV owning brother, Reuben Parker (David Alan Grier), and his immediate family prefer debonair elegance and by-the-book conversations.
For The Proud Family, every family member on "Behind Family Lines," has their own foil. Oscar's wrestling-loving mother, Suga Mama (Jo Marie Payton), faces off against Trudy's dust-inspecting mother, Mrs. Maureen Parker (Cicely Tyson), who mistakes the former as the housemaid. Even their weiner dogs, Puff Proud and Coco Parker, engage in a play-stealing, football showdown. Ray Ray and Reuben request each others insurance information over their vehicles colliding upon arrival at Penny's house; so are larger-than-life Boonetta and Broadway actress Diane Parker (Sheryl Lee Ralph), who have razor-sharp clapbacks for one another. Dr. Vincent Parker (Robert Guillaume) can't stand who his daughter married, falsely believing that the seafood restaurant Oscar takes both families to would have "sporks," a "drive-thru window, and a clown's head."
At the center of all these classist conflicts? Penny Proud. Although she's experienced the best of both worlds due to her parents' opposites attract union, she's frustrated with their generation's simplistic viewpoints. At one point, she's puzzled that her same-aged cousin, aptly named Chanel (Solange Knowles), would expect a private cottage at her house. At another moment, she's in horror as her other cousin Ray Ray Jr. (Jamal Mixon), and his oversized 10-month-old baby brother, ate an entire Thanksgiving table-worth of food before the family prayer ended.
It takes Penny, Chanel, and Ray Ray Jr. to realize that the the older relatives feuding is ruining the fun and main purpose of the reunion. After a physical altercation between all the adults because of a disputed touchdown during tackle football in the park, Penny's BFF, Dijonay Jones (Karen Malina White), points out the senselessness of the situation, as an outside source looking into the drama. Coming from a dysfunctional household of an often neglectful father who leaves his wife home alone to raise her eight younger siblings, Dijonay quips to all three, "Dang Penny, I could have stayed at home if I wanted to see grown ups fight like that, I gotta go..." This prompts the cousins to leave and joyride Reuben's smart-SUV, where they're busted (but let off easy) by a family friend and neighborhood cop, Sunset Boulevardez (Maria Canals-Barrera).
Although the families still bicker, placing the blame on which teen devised the plan, all three cousins confess they enjoy each other's presence despite past family drama they were never apart of. That seeing the older generations act ugly towards each other is what's advising them on what not to do. If they can enjoy each other's company and learn from one another as teenagers, what's preventing the generations above them? Especially when the example needs to be set for Bebe and Cece (as well as 10-month-old Symone). That class or respective envies of varying intellect, charisma, and skills, shouldn't divide the growing future of a black family, because there's larger issues at hand (or you'll be in an unhappy situation the Joneses find themselves trying to keep up). And frankly despite all that divides them, both the Prouds and the Parkers share commonalities which they probably wouldn't even realize if the animated footage were rolled back. It takes Penny's charm and charismatic persuasion to cunningly get both sides to see that unity — which is easily built on common values they already share — is what's most important, and the original point of inviting the families to the baptism.
"Behind Family Lines" might have used classism — a theme prevalent not just in the black TV landscape, but also in sitcoms and dramas universally — but its usage in a cartoon with relatable and identifiable characters (with familiar voices) is a lesson that any generation should value. When we examine these divides within race (and outside of it) it makes us wonder after all the laughs, what's all the fighting really about? Is it about envy or not being able to relate to others' situations? Is it a harboring of drama from previous generations we can't seem to let go because of constant reminders or aggressions? Or better yet: Are we simply fighting (like The Prouds and The Parkers) because we don't want to confront the truth of identifying some shared commonalities in personalities and family structure, once class is stripped away as an important descriptor?
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