White actors have a long history of voicing black characters in a notoriously diversity-deficient industry, but the recent uprising over America’s racism epidemic has resulted in a change of heart for Family Guy, The Simpsons, and Netflix’s Big Mouth.
Mike Henry, the voice behind Family Guy character Cleveland Brown, says that he will no longer voice the Black cartoon character. The character landed a spinoff, The Cleveland Show, which aired from 2009 until 2013. The animated series featured Henry in the lead role, along with Sanaa Latahan as the voice of Brown’s wife, and Reagan Gomez-Preston and Kevin Michael Richardson as their children.
On Friday (June 26), Henry tweeted that it’s been “an honor” to play Brown for the last 20 years, “But persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role.”
It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years. I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role. pic.twitter.com/FmKasWITKT
— Mike Henry (@mikehenrybro) June 26, 2020
Ahead of Henry’s announcement, The Simpson’s released a statement announcing that the show will “no longer have white actors voice non-white characters.” The long-running animated sitcom was called out in the 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu, over its stereotypical depiction of the character, Apu, who was voiced by white actor, Hank Azaria. In February, Azaria finally decided to stop voicing the character. “Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore. It just didn’t feel right.”
Earlier in the week, actress Jenny Slate announced that she will stop voicing the Black character “Missy” on Big Mouth.
“At the start of the show, I reasoned with myself that it was permissible for me to play ‘Missy’ because her mom is Jewish and White — as am I. But ‘Missy’ is also Black, and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people,” Slate wrote on Instagram. “I acknowledge how my original reasoning was flawed, that it exited as an example of white privilege and unjust allowance made within a system of societal white supremacy, and that in me playing ‘Missy’ is one step in a life-long process of uncovering the racism in my actions.”
Read Slate’s full statement below.
View this post on Instagram