Two of the best known animated primetime shows, Disney-owned Family Guy and The Simpsons, announced major changes Friday on their employment of white actors to portray characters of color on their series.
Mike Henry, an actor who is white and performs the role of Cleveland Brown (pictured top left) on Fox’s Family Guy, said in a tweet this afternoon that he would no longer provide the voice of the character. “It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years,” Henry wrote. “I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role.”
Henry had also voiced the character in its own spin-off series, The Cleveland Show, which ran for four seasons on Fox from 2009 to 2013. In that series, he also voiced Cleveland’s black stepson Rallo Tubbs. The voice actor has not made any indication that he will stop voicing Consuela, the Latina maid who appears on Family Guy, nor have the show’s producers made any comments about what will happen to the other nonwhite characters on the series that are performed by white actors, such as the Japanese reporter Tricia Takanawa played by Alex Borstein.
Similarly, the showrunners of The Simpsons released a statement that read, “Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters.” All of the regular black characters on the series, like Carlton Carlson and Dr. Julius M. Hibbert have been voiced by white actors.
These casting changes come in the wake of nationwide protests over police killings of African-Americans and a widespread public debate about the systemic racism that occurs throughout American life, including the entertainment industry. The changes on Family Guy and The Simpsons follow announcements earlier this week by two actresses, Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell, both white, who made personal decisions to stop voicing the black characters on their respective series, Netflix’s Big Mouth and Apple TV+’s Central Park.
Simpsons actor Hank Azaria, who voices Carl Carlson, also voiced the show’s Indian-American immigrant, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, but stepped down from the role earlier this year, following a heated public discussion about the character’s racist implications, triggered by the 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu.
Azaria had partly based the character of Apu on the 1968 feature The Party, in which white actor Peter Sellers wears brownface to play an Indian character. Azaria admitted that, at the time he created the voice, he didn’t realize The Party could be construed as racist. “That represents a real blind spot I had,” he told The New York Times. “There I am, joyfully basing a character on what was already considered quite upsetting.”