Can only black people voice black cartoon characters?

Voiceover artists should stop apologising. This racial essentialism in art is ugly.

Lou Perez


If you spent the past few months on lockdown, you know there is no shortage of material to cancel. Gone with the Wind was gone with the… well, subscription to HBO Max. The classic film was pulled from the streaming platform, only to ‘return with a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions’. Two weeks later, viewers could watch Scarlett and Rhett again – that is, after an introductory disclaimer, as promised.

I’m not sure the mud-mask episode of Golden Girls will ever return to Hulu – even if it is accompanied by a discussion of its historical context (ie, wearing a mud mask is not blackface).

Eager to remain on the right side of whatever history is being made today, some actors are preemptively cancelling themselves.

After 20 years of voicing the Cleveland character on Family Guy, Mike Henry is giving up the role. What is obvious now – but was not 20 years ago or even two months ago – is that ‘persons of colour should play characters of colour’. Henry is not a person of colour, but Cleveland is a character of colour, so Henry handed in his tweet of resignation.

I guess now the show has to find a black actor who can do the voice Henry created for Cleveland?

Perhaps Family Guy producers will have to do the same for the other cartoon characters Henry voiced, like Consuela the Hispanic maid, and any others that check the POC box on the actor’s IMDb page.

Henry is not alone. Alison Brie wishes she hadn’t voiced Diane Nguyen on BoJack Horseman: ‘I now understand that people of colour should always voice people of colour.’ And Kristen Bell will no longer voice a mixed-race character in Central Park — but men will still voice some of its women characters.

When it comes to Hollywood and activism, it’s easy to be cynical. The problem with casting actors for videos like the #ITakeResponsibility one is that it always comes off like they’re acting. You can brush off career moves like Brie’s, Bell’s and Henry’s as virtue-signalling / career insurance. But I believe many actors and actresses are acting in good faith. They want to be allies. They want to open doors for others.

Jenny Slate, for example, gave up playing the role of Missy Foreman-Greenwald on Netflix’s Big Mouth. As the actress explains on Instagram:

‘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 reasoned herself into the role and later out of the role. The implications of her reasoning make me uncomfortable. Perhaps my fragility is showing, but it seems that in order ‘to engage in meaningful anti-racist action’, as Slate wants to continue doing, you have to resurrect archaic views on race. When it comes to Missy, that means erasing the character’s mixed identity – which, I don’t even remember being important in Big Mouth – and declaring her black by some kind of cartoon version of the one-drop rule.

Slate apologises to ‘anyone that I’ve hurt’. But I really can’t imagine she’s hurt anybody. Big Mouth is a cartoon show where hormone monsters guide kids through the awkwardness of puberty and all that comes with it: excitement, shame, perversion. Pillows get pregnant in this world! The show’s hilarious!

Her statement reads more like the script of a recent convert to the Faith. She seeks to atone for her privilege – but anti-racism will never forgive her for that, no matter how many promises she makes to do better. So she invents another sin: making a cute voice for a fictional character ‘problematic’.

Missy Foreman-Greenwald is more than her white Jewish mother and black father, and more than her brown skin. She is a loveable dork, romantic and a pervert. She is a kid voiced by an adult woman who looks nothing like her, but sounds exactly as she should – which is part of the magic of voiceover.

It’s an art. Slate is an artist. And if you watch Big Mouth you don’t need a discussion of its historical context or a denouncement of its depictions to see that.

Lou Perez is head writer and executive producer at We the Internet TV. Follow him on Twitter: @TheLouPerez

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Jack Sprat

8th July 2020 at 11:34 pm

It seems Bo Derek ( how ancient is she now ? ) has apologized for having hair corn rows as a teenager … 70 year olds are apologizing for having a Mohican Indian hair cut when 16.

Nesim Vatani

6th July 2020 at 11:58 pm

So, I would like to point out how racist and stupid this decision is. One, if only black people can play Black cartoons then that also means they cannot voice white characters. This means the great Phil Lamarre would see his ability to take roles drop by 45%. Just look at all the characters he has voiced.

With these decisions they are ensuring that black voice actors see there roles reduce, and why would then they? This would literally make it where in order to avoid discrimination lawsuits, roles would have to be race locked.

This woke BS is actually codifying racism as if it is correct. What is next? Neosegragation?

John D Henry

5th July 2020 at 11:38 pm

Like much of woke inspired nonsense, makes no economic sense. Voice over actors in series such as the Simpsons do multiple voices, if you need a separate ethnic to do just the voice for each ethnicity (say Black , Indian, American Indian, Japanese, Chinese etc.) it will be easier and more cost effective just to drop these sort of character roles, if its going to cause problems. Likely to cause unintended consequences, such as this. Why not go the whole hog, and just ban all acting?

David Graham

5th July 2020 at 5:32 pm

Is this how Art dies?

Jerry Taylor

5th July 2020 at 2:15 pm

I dare someone to put on an all-white version of “Hamilton,” right the hell now.

stella stella

5th July 2020 at 8:44 am

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Paul Carlin

4th July 2020 at 7:55 pm

Can women voice male parts? Bye bye, Bart Simpson. Can men voice female parts? Down With ‘The Incredibles’.

Ven Oods

4th July 2020 at 6:30 pm

It’s quite amusing that you need to read a list of things that might upset you in a movie, otherwise you might not be upset in the right places.
I don’t watch horror movies, cgi movies (the ones without actual human actors) or ‘chick flicks’. If I did, I’d probably be antsy all the way through them. Fortunately, there are synopses you can read before viewing movies, so you’ll know whether you’re likely to be entertained and decide accordingly. What’s not required is some unofficial censor deciding what may or may not offend this group or that.
Infantilisation, and unwelcome.

Jim Lawrie

4th July 2020 at 6:50 pm

I was bemused by a warning that said “this show contains mild violence”. WTF is mild violence?

Jack Sprat

4th July 2020 at 3:37 pm

Now that Church of England has proudly black faced Christ to make him a BLM supporter one wonders what pc crime it is committing ….a Semitic Middle East origin icon dressing up in drag pretending to be a black African ?

CJ Hawes

4th July 2020 at 11:08 am

Is it ok if you identify as BAME and then do an accent? I imagine that the answer to this question will cause confusion in some quarters – but, but, but, but.

Jim Lawrie

4th July 2020 at 10:51 am

We must insist on a warning on all 100 million Boney M records sold because of the White German guy who vocalled on the recordings for both the Black guy and the Black girls in the band. He did similar with other musical projects. It all went awry with Milli Vanilli when one of the guys fronting the band insisted on actually singing at a concert, and revealed to the world that he couldn’t. Frank Farian, the villain of the piece, is a very bad man, albeit quite a good singer. Even his name is someone’ else’s. Add in his success and we have great grist for the envious wrath of the BLM mill.
As if all this were not crime enough, he is also a redhead who sported a mullet back in the day, currently is worth over 30m quid and was born under the Nazi regime. How did he dodge Nuremberg? Being 4 years old at the time does not constitute a defence.

Andrew Levens

4th July 2020 at 9:48 am

I couldn’t really care. Let the ‘luvvies’ sort this out amongst themselves. I only care about the final product. I’m a fan of the Netfix series Lucifer. In one episode, the black archangel Gabriel (incognito) is confronted by an LA policeman with obvious suspicion and pre existing assumptions. That really brought home to me some of the experience of being black. If i were black, I’d be more interested in more quality writing addressing racialism than who voiced a cartoon character.

James Conner

4th July 2020 at 5:11 am

All artwork of black cartoon characters must be carried out by blacks. Anything else is racist.

Gordon Te Gopher

4th July 2020 at 12:06 am

Only cartoon characters can voice cartoon characters. Anything else would be bare cartoon characterophobia innit.

Matt Ryan

3rd July 2020 at 9:23 pm

I hope the writers who pen the lines for black characters are also black. And no homosexuals play straight roles (new Spock out of a role right there).

In fact, we need wizards playing Gandalf (old McKellan pretending is not longer good enough) and elves, goblins etc playing themselves in film. Ridiculous you say – these things don’t exist. Well, a guy with tits isn’t a woman but that doesn’t stop them self-identifying as such.

David McAdam

3rd July 2020 at 8:22 pm

Therefore drama schools will drop accent classes, will they? What about Scottish actors performing with English accents e.g Robert Carlyle in Carla, and visa versa e.g. Clive Russel in Still Game? Ban this too?

Matt Ryan

3rd July 2020 at 9:19 pm

Yep, that’d be cultural appropriation.

Brandy Cluster

3rd July 2020 at 10:24 pm

There’s a very long way to go in playing this game; oh, yes. “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” – out you go!! Oprah, gotta stop that hair straightening as it’s cultural appropriation. On and on and on….

The Left isn’t bright. Who hasn’t known that for decades already?

Jack Sprat

3rd July 2020 at 7:02 pm

Ditching some old newspapers I came across an article celebrating the first black guy playing a part in a Shakespeare play and openness to any performing part to anyone regardless of colour of self or part in an integrated society. How things change with colour identity polarization now compulsory and few brave enough to say blx to shrieks of crime of cultural appropriation. Prince William got away with it when he wore local gear to state visit to Pakistan.

Major Bonkers

3rd July 2020 at 7:15 pm

Better than his brother, who has form referring to ‘Pakis’ and ‘ragheads’.

T Zazoo

4th July 2020 at 2:45 am

I think at this point we can write off Harry in every regard so it probably doesn’t matter what he said in the past or what he dressed up as.

Mark Beal

3rd July 2020 at 6:37 pm

The most lucrative job in the world right now must be penning cringeworthy apologies for pointless celebs with more money than backbone.

Michel Houllebeq

3rd July 2020 at 5:57 pm

What a mess society is in – you might as well go back to how nature intended at this stage – the open borders multiculturalism experiment has failed. Whites for Europe, Blacks for Africa etc.

Brandy Cluster

3rd July 2020 at 10:26 pm

But, you see, the whole system of open borders (or porous borders) was predicated on vast populations being comprehensively indoctrinated and denied freedom of speech. Since Europe or Australia wasn’t consulted about this in the first place then you know the propaganda has to be ramped up on steroids.


3rd July 2020 at 5:27 pm

Surely the actors selling equity release or funeral plans should really use these services? On crime dramas the actors should have suffered the injuries ( don’t know how they manage murder cases?) and a king can only be played by a king. As a black actor may not represent all black people the new actors must be the correct age socio-economic group etc before I will accept them as I can apparently only accept things in a literal way, I cannot use my imagination . Even though it is fiction , cartoon and drama so it is not real, if they insist on following these ridiculous rules , leave them to it and let them cancel each other out.How will they deal with animal and sci-fi voice overs-how many Klingons are they in Spotlight?

Marvin Jones

3rd July 2020 at 5:25 pm

For the first 60 years of my life I was a healthy and contented person married to the loveliest woman on earth. We rambled on many fairways here and abroad, hooked on this heavenly sport called golf. Suddenly our glorious lives were shattered and since 2014 I turned into a cripple barely able to walk 20 metres with crutches. I was unfortunate to spend several stays in hospitals for several reasons, and this is the main reason for my comment. I discovered that in one hospital in Croydon, a ward where there were ONLY black nurses on shifts, only doctors and consultants differed. Perturbed and puzzled at first, but with a bit of thought, maybe that is the answer to a lot of racial problems. They probably feel comfortable working with each other, can’t blame racism on
any slacking of work, and no excuses of deep rooted reasons for not being promoted. I wonder!


3rd July 2020 at 3:27 pm

As a redhead, I object to people with fair hair reading Prince Harry’s statements.
Maybe I should ask Plod to visit these people.

David Ross

3rd July 2020 at 2:37 pm

Darth Vader was played by a white actor yet voiced by a black actor. I don’t quite know where to start with that one.

Hugh Jardon

4th July 2020 at 7:37 pm

You beat me to it.
The excellent James Earl Jones won’t be able to voice Darth Vader any more.
In case it upsets a woke person.

Danny Rees

3rd July 2020 at 2:31 pm

What is going right now is a reaction to perceived offence or the belief someone MIGHT be offended.

Might be offended by blacking up in Little Britain, might be offended by white actors voicing non white cartoon characters.

It devalues anti racism and the Black Lives Matter causes of which we are told all this comes in the light of.

Lee Hallam

3rd July 2020 at 1:56 pm

It’s worth considering how we got to this. There seem to be two reasons for it, the first is the idea of denying work to black actors. Voice over work is a very specialized area, generally the specialist actors provide multiple voices, there is absolutely no reason why a black actor should not voice white characters.

The main reason though comes down to it as an extension of Black face, but it’s not often discussed why that is wrong, and where the line is. 150 years ago crude charactures of black men portraying them as dishonest, lazy and stupid used the familiar minstrel makeup. But those shows developed and by 100 years ago, it was merely a theatrical tradition for those performing a particular style of music. Al Jolson wasn’t mocking black people when he wore it, he was not a racist, he used his power to give opportunities to black artists, and ensured they got the same pay as white performers. Now no trend is a straight line and plenty of performances of white actors in none white roles, have been racist, but mostly they have just been cast for a shortage of actors of the right ethnicity that were up to the job. What should be judged is the character of the performance, not the colour of the actor.

Oddly the suggestion of racist charactures in Gone With The Wind is that they were performed by black actors. I’m confused about whether that’s okay.


3rd July 2020 at 1:27 pm

Meanwhile, at the RSC, they delight in giving all the white men’s roles to black or female actors.

Philip Humphrey

3rd July 2020 at 2:47 pm

Quite. But could you imagine the outrage if a role originally written for a black person was replaced by a white character? I don’t mind changing the race or sex of roles and fictional characters in the slightest, but it has to work all ways.

Stephen J

3rd July 2020 at 4:48 pm

During his lifetime, all of Shakespeare’s characters were played by white men, including the women. It was considered unseemly for women to take to the stage, and there were few or no black people in this country at that time.

The thing is, he was a story teller, and he wanted his stories to be heard, not even necessarily seen. It is the sound of his writing that he was selling, rather than some campaign to provide the acting “community” with a bunch of cabbages, eggs and potatoes to chuck back into the faces of the audience.

The audience at a Shakespeare event don’t go to see how the characters have taken physical form, they go to listen to the poetry.


3rd July 2020 at 6:40 pm

‘The audience at a Shakespeare event don’t go to see how the characters have taken physical form, they go to listen to the poetry.’

So it wouldn’t matter at all if Othello were played by a white actor, would it?

Stephen Byrne

3rd July 2020 at 1:14 pm

“Hollywood Actors Pledge Never To Take A Role Where They Have To Pretend To Be Someone Else” –

Peter Spurrier

3rd July 2020 at 1:46 pm

Good one.

Andrew Shaughnessy

3rd July 2020 at 1:11 pm

Will the 10-year-old boys in the Simpsons now be played by actual boys rather than middle-aged women? No, thought not…

Danny Rees

3rd July 2020 at 2:36 pm

And what about female characters voiced by male actors?

Peter Spurrier

3rd July 2020 at 12:58 pm

Not ‘Family Guy’ too. It’s always been about being politically incorrect.

Have we now reached the stage where you’re only allowed to act someone the same as yourself? In which case, isn’t acting no longer allowed?

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