Advertisement
Annapolis

Quiet Eastport upbringing inspired Annapolis native’s television career writing for ‘The Boondocks’, HBO’s ‘Winning Time’

Growing up in Eastport in the 1960s and 70s, Rodney Barnes would sneak into the Circle Theatre on State Circle to watch movies. Unusually tall for an elementary school student, no one questioned him as he watched Disney films in the mornings and more adult features at night.

Until the old theater closed in 1979, those experiences shaped Barnes and helped build the foundation for an award-winning writing and producing career in show business.

Advertisement

“I would stay all day,” Barnes said in an interview, a few hours before Annapolis honored him on June 24 with a key to the city. “I’ve been 6 feet tall since I was 6, 7 years old so nobody questioned me.”

Over the last 20 years, Barnes has built a deep filmography that includes co-executive producer credits on “Everybody Hates Chris,” the hit television show about comedian Chris Rock’s upbringing, and “The Boondocks,” an animated series created by Aaron MacGruder, another Maryland resident.

Advertisement

The June 24 festivities also included a screening of an episode of Barnes’ latest work, HBO’s “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,” a dramatic retelling of the story of the NBA’s best team during the 1980s. In addition to executive producing all 10 episodes of the show, Barnes appeared in four episodes as Maurice, the Lakers’ head of security.

“It’s an incredible honor,” Barnes said of receiving a key to the city. “In a lot of ways, I look at the community I come from and how supportive they have and continue to be, and it gives me an extra degree of motivation to do the city proud.”

Barnes was raised primarily by his grandparents in Eastport in the 1960s and 70s. As a child, he collected comic books with his friends, who attended Eastport Elementary with him and would also sneak into the Circle Theatre together.

Thanks to the tight-knit community, he was shielded from some of the troubles of the world and that let him dive into the world of television and movies.

“The Eastport I grew up in was quiet enough to let my imagination grow,” he said. “It was like I was able to go to my own private film school.”

One of Barnes’ favorite pastimes was collecting comic books and reading them with his friends. Barnes and childhood friend Michael Moyer would travel from Annapolis to Glen Burnie, Severna Park and Baltimore to find the latest editions.

“It was fun, but it was also a competition trying to get the best comics,” Moyer said. “I used to think I was smarter than Rodney at collecting, but now I own a comic book store and he’s had success after success in Hollywood, so I think he’s the smarter one.”

Barnes’ childhood passion developed into more career success; he has penned several graphic novels for Marvel and Lucasfilm comics including, “Lando: Double or Nothing” and “Falcon and Secret Empire.”

Advertisement

It isn’t a shock to Harden Morel, another friend who grew up with Barnes, that he would have so much success, as his dreams always matched his 6-foot-8-inch frame.

“We started working at 10 years old picking up trash at the Naval [Academy] Stadium, so I know he’s always had a very strong work ethic,” said Morel, who still talks to Barnes weekly. “He’s very humble and this is probably awkward for him, but he deserves all the recognition.”

Keith Colbert, a friend and high school basketball teammate, recalled Barnes packing up a beat-up pickup truck and driving from Maryland to California with dreams of making it in Hollywood.

“I saw it coming,” Colbert said. “It’s all amazing and we’re all so happy for him.”

And Barnes certainly made it happen. From working on films like “Blade” and “The Green Mile,” even being a stand-in for the late actor Michael Clark Duncan, he would eventually land a writer-producer role on ABC’s hit show “My Wife and Kids” in 2004. Barnes would go on to be nominated for a BET Comedy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.

For his work on “The Boondocks” Barnes was nominated for a Writers Guild Award and won an American Film Institute award for his work on “Everybody Hates Chris,” which he executive produced from 2005 to 2009. Barnes has worked on a slew of other shows from TruTVs sitcom “Those Who Can’t” to Starz’s “American Gods,” “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” and others.

Advertisement
The Morning Sun

The Morning Sun

Daily

Get your morning news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the baltimoresun.com.

No matter how much success Barnes achieves, nothing can separate him from his roots in Eastport, he said.

“L.A. has always felt like business, and it moves at a certain pace and that isn’t how I grew up,” Barnes said. “Annapolis has its own pace, and that slower pace makes the connections deeper to me. I believe community is comprised of the people, not just geography and I’m deeply committed to the people that are here.”

It’s that mentality along with the accolades that make honoring Barnes with the key to the city a no-brainer.

“It is extremely important and downright necessary to recognize people in ways such as giving them a key to the city,” said William Rowel, senior adviser to Mayor Gavin Buckley, during the June 24 ceremony. “It is aspirational and confirming and uplifting to the awarder and awardee. I think it’s always important to acknowledge what’s good in the world and then show it to others.”

“Rodney Barnes is what’s good in the world,” Rowel said.

Barnes continues to help out in the Annapolis area whenever he can and is active on the speaking circuit, discussing his career, the media landscape, cultural and race issues, and comic book culture.

Advertisement

“For me, my job now is no different than any other job I’ve had, and I had a lot of them all over this city,” Barnes said. “But when I’m out of the country and I see a show or movie I’ve worked on being played it reminds me how important and impactful I can be because the message that’s in the work reaches people and that is powerful.”


Advertisement