Across animation, white actors are stepping away from nonwhite characters. The last week has seen apologies and/or resignations from the cast and creators of Big Mouth, Central Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Bojack Horseman. The argument is that, by voicing these characters, the actors were denying actors of color a job and misrepresenting the experiences of nonwhite people in America.
In a New Yorker essay titled “The Messy Politics of Black Voices — and ‘Black Voice’ — in American Animation,” culture critic Lauren Michele Jackson cautions against this movement, suggesting that it’s an empty gesture. Jackson, who has written extensively on race and cultural appropriation, agrees that black people should be given more work in the industry, but disagrees that a character’s race must always match its actor’s.
Her nuanced article makes several key points about the medium. She notes that much American animation is inherently racist, drawing as it does on the iconography and characterization of minstrel shows. She also claims — correctly — that the debate about racial representation in animation has long focused on characters, rather than the actual talent in the industry.