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Photo: Jeff Vespa
Photo: Jeff Vespa

White voice actors step down from portraying cartoon characters of color

Many longtime cartoon characters of color will finally be properly represented in the recording booth.

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Amid national Black Lives Matter protests, many brands, companies and even states have made changes to address their role in systemic racism and put an end to it.

Quaker Oats, owner of Aunt Jemima maple syrup, is taking away their logo that perpetuates a racist stereotype. Mississippi just voted to remove the Confederate emblem from their state flag, and Rhode Island is considering removing “Providence Plantations” from their official state name. 

Recently, several cartoon shows joined the conversation about racial injustice and erasure in the industry. Jenny Slate announced that she will no longer be voicing the biracial character, “Missy” on the Netflix original, Big Mouth. 

Slate wrote in an Instagram post that she originally thought it was okay for her to play Missy because her mom is Jewish and White, just like her. But because Missy is also Black, Slate decided it wasn’t her place. 

“I acknowledge how my original reasoning was flawed, that it existed as an example of white privilege and unjust allowances within a system of societal white supremacy, and that in me playing ‘Missy,’ I was engaging in an act of erasure of Black people,” she wrote.

One of the producers of the show, Nick Kroll, also posted a statement on his Instagram, apologizing for their original decision to cast a white actor to play a biracial character. 

“We look forward to being able to explore Missy’s story with even greater authenticity in the years to come,” wrote Kroll

Kristen Bell also announced that she will be stepping down from her role voicing “Molly” on the Apple TV show, Central Park. 

“Casting a mixed race character with a white actress undermines the specificity of the mixed race and Black American experience,” she wrote on Instagram. 

In a statement to USA Today, The Simpsons said they will no longer have white actors voicing POC characters. 

It wasn’t announced which specific characters and actors will be affected by this decision, but Hank Aziria already stepped down as the voice of “Apu” in February. 

Voice actor Mike Henry announced that he won’t be playing Cleveland on Family Guy anymore. 

“It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years. I love this character, but people of color should play characters of color,” he wrote on Twitter

Alison Brie announced on Instagram that she will not be voicing the character Diane Nguyen on Netflix’s Bojack Horseman. 

“I now understand that people of color should always voice people of color. We missed a great opportunity to represent the Vietnamse-American community accurately and respectfully, and for that I am truly sorry,” wrote Brie on Instagram.

Many people on Twitter were frustrated that it took national outrage for these shows and actors to realize that there was an issue. But many others are pleased to see the changes and look at the change as actors using their influence to affect the industry at large.

“Jenny Slate, who played a biracial character on Big Mouth, is leaving the show so her role can be recast and given to a Black person. This is how actors can use their privilege!!” wrote one commenter on Twitter.

While these characters are not based on real people, and acting is about versatility, actors of color deserve to have the opportunity to play these characters in an industry where opportunity is slim for them. 

Making space for these actors won’t solve systemic racism overnight, but it’s definitely a start. 


 

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