In recent weeks, white voice actors for animated television shows such as Big Mouth, Central Park, and Family Guy are stepping down from their roles voicing non-white characters.
Among the actors choosing to step down are Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell, who both voice biracial characters on their respective shows.
Both actresses have recognized and publicly acknowledged how their voices are problematic, and a form of erasure that undermines the specificities of the biracial experience.
This news comes around the same time that the producers of the wildly popular animated-show The Simpsons announced that they will no longer use white actors to voice non-white characters.
This decision comes three years after the show removed the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon voiced by Hank Azaria -- in response to heavy criticism sparked by comedian Hari Kondabolu in his documentary, “The Problem with Apu.”
The documentary featured numerous South Asian celebrities, including Aasif Mandvi, Kal Penn, Hasan Minhaj and Sakina Jaffrey, who discuss how the popularity of a stereotypical character like Apu resulted in bullying and ridicule in their own lives.
Social media has been split on arguments regarding voice actors stepping down, calling it a form of performative activism.
Getting rid of white voice actors playing non-white characters should not be the end of a show’s commitment to anti-racism -- it should be the beginning.
It’s great that there is more room being made for non-white voice actors in animated television, but there is so much further to go.
White voice actors stepping down is just one small step towards diverse and inclusive storytelling in animated and live action entertainment.
It makes a symbolic statement: people of colour should be in charge of their voices and stories at every level.
As a critical consumer, and as a person of colour, I want to see these diverse stories being told, particularly from the people who have lived them.
As a brown woman, I have spent my whole life in anticipation of these stories. I have been waiting to turn on the television and see people who look like me -- not only the ones that are reduced to stereotypes that come with brown skin.
Moving forward, we must ask who comes up with these characters in the first place, and who should be in those seats instead.
Who is in the writer’s room? Do the people in these spaces resemble the characters that we see on television every Sunday night?
We need Black, Indigenous and people of colour to be in front of, and behind the screen at every level to ensure that stories being told are representative and accurate.
While space is being created slowly, it is crucial to push for diverse writing rooms. For the sake of inclusivity, and for the sake of pushing the envelope on quality, cutting edge and unique storytelling that can only come from people from a variety of backgrounds.
While making space for BIPOC voices in animated shows, we must continue to push even harder for a seat at the table in the writer’s rooms -- because our voices are just as needed there, too.
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