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Video: ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Family Guy’/Hollywood Insider YouTube Channel

As our nation grows increasingly more aware of the systemic racism on which so many of our industries are built and benefit from, the world is zeroing in on issues of race within our entertainment industries. Following the tragic death of George Floyd in May, companies around the world both big and small are taking action and standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Film and television shows alike are getting criticized for lack of representation and white-washing, which has allowed white actors and actresses to play the role of a non-white character. Recently, the world of animated television has been owning up to its mistakes in casting white actors to voice non-white characters. Shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy have announced that they are taking a closer look at their casting choices and making necessary changes for a brighter future of equality. 

Non-White Characters – Representation in Animation

Accurate racial representation has been an issue in La La Land for far too long. Though it is late, (some of ) Hollywood seems to finally be stepping up and taking accountability. Voice actor Mike Henry announced on July 2 that he would be exiting the Family Guy series and leaving the role of Cleveland Brown behind. Henry took to Twitter to announce his departure, and give fans insight as to why he felt the need to leave the show. 

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Henry wrote, “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.” 

Henry himself is white and has been voicing the character since his role on the show began in 1999. With more and more questions being raised about the ethics of the film and television industry, it comes as no shock that actors and actresses are looking deeper to find the faults in their own work. The industry has been flawed from the very beginning, but in light of George Floyd’s death and the tragedies against the Black community that continue each day, it is nice to see some people stepping up and owning up to mistakes. Will these decisions about animated television fix the racism problem in Hollywood? No.

There are astronomical amounts of work to be done in ways of racial justice, but this is a start. Every movement has to start somewhere. Creators of The Simpsons followed suit by announcing that they will no longer support the notion of characters of color being voiced by white actors. From this point on, they will strictly only be casting persons of color to play characters of color. The announcement came right on the heels of Henry’s stepping down, and after Hank Azaria stepped down from the role of Apu on the series, back in January.  

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Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell spurred the domino effect by stepping down from their roles on Big Mouth, where Slate played a mixed-race character Missy, and Central Park, with Kristen Bell playing Molly, another mixed-race character. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

There is no definitive answer on how to move forward in the entertainment industry, other than simply doing better. Owning up to the millions of mistakes made is merely step one in a long chain of using white privilege to support and stand up for Black lives and the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole. 

Jenny Slate originally made the excuse for herself that playing Missy wasn’t any issue because Missy’s mother was Jewish and white, just as Slate’s is. However, as she looked deeper into what the impact of her playing this character had over the intention, she realized it was wrong. “I acknowledge how my original reasoning was flawed,” Slate stated. “That it existed as an example of white privilege and unjust allowances made within a system of societal white supremacy, and that in me playing Missy, I was engaging in an act of erasure of Black people.”

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And like Slate, so many before her have made excuses for themselves in order to avoid the tough conversation. Facing your own internal racism is not a step that can be overlooked. In terms of Hollywood, the overlook of this step ultimately lends a hand to a whole new generation not feeling represented within the media. White people don’t have to worry about seeing a character they can resonate with on-screen, but for Black people and people of color, it’s a constant struggle to see their own race represented in big-time entertainment. The industry must make a promise to move forward and then ACT on it. Empty promises are nothing, but taking action to step up and dismantle the horrific systemic racism from which white people benefit, must be done. The fight for racial equality is a long one, but it is one worth fighting for every single time.  

By Rebecca Breitfeller

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