Can Voice Actors Play Different Races?

Before we get into this I do think that no matter what the fact that we are having this conversation is a good thing and I am probably going to regret typing this up, but I hope it will help clarify my thoughts and feelings. Hopefully no one will judge me to harshly for them.

So lets get a few elephants in the room out of the way.

  1. Black face is completely wrong. As is Yellow face , Brown face or what ever you are doing. There will obviously be niche situations where it is actually OK. Specifically if someone is telling a historical story where one of the characters did this disgusting practice. For instance if someone made an Al Jolson Biopic. For many he will be famous for one of two things. Either his long career in Black Face or being the star of the first talking picture. I doubt any studio would want to make a film about Jolson, especially in todays climate but this was the best example I could think of. (Also yes I know he campaigned against black discrimination on Broadway, so do not make the point I am not doing an article about Jolson I am talking about representation in voice acting.) In short in live action unless under special circumstances you should not be playing a different race.

  2. I am a straight white man. My opinions are going to be biased and in some ways I will be ill informed. That is the nature of the beast and too many people in my situation forget that we are all treated different. I am sorry but White Privilege is a thing. It does not mean that people who look like me do not suffer, but it does mean that our skin color is not usually a factor in that suffering. I was born a straight white man, in one of the worlds most well to do countries, this has given me a leg up in life and the fact that we live in a time of flux is a good thing, the socioeconomic changes happening all around are positive and we should view it as such.

  3. Portraying a character and portraying a stereotype are two different things. By now you know that I am typing this up because Jenny Slate recently left Big Mouth over her depiction of a mixed race character/ Kirsten Bell has also recently come under fire for the same reason. From what I can tell these characters where never racial stereotypes, unlike Apu from the Simpsons. Now i will admit that Apu eventually in the seasons glory days evolved into a character and when used well actually meant something, for instance Much Apu About Nothing was used to critique the Western worlds opinions on foreigners. Still for the most part it was weak jokes made at his ethnicity, accent and race. Which is not cool. Still this character was more of a character, at least in my opinion. We are in the 21st century now we can do better and we should do better.

As I have previously stated both actresses Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell will give up their roles on “Big Mouth” and “Central Park” respectively, saying it’s inappropriate for them to voice biracial cartoon characters.

At first I got defensive over this and thought well this comes off as very reactionary and also thought to myself that Jordan Peele is Biracial and portrays a someone on the show who is not Biracial, why is one ok and not the other?

This lead me to thinking about legendary voice actors Phil LaMarr and Kevin Michael Richardson. LaMarr of course is famous for voicing a wide variety of characters including Samurai Jack and Aquaman, while Kevin Michael Richardson has voiced both Shredder and The Joker. No one would argue that they are not masters of their craft, especially LaMarr who is a big reason why Samurai Jack is so great. Though if you look further into it both actors spend a lot of their time voicing black characters, so that does not really solve anything.

By this point I am feeling a little confused.

Because I am totally fine with Phil LaMarr playing a Japanese guy and I am for some reason not ok with Jenny Slate playing a Biracial girl.

Am I being reactionary?

Do I have double standards?

Maybe it is yes to both of these. I do not think that someones race determines if they can voice a character. If race was important in this sense then we would never get any anime dubbed. 

In the end I do not think the actors should be blamed for this and the only solution is that we need a more diverse group of creators. Now before anyone starts accusing me of saying that I demand a white genocide and that I want rid of white creators, no I am not saying that!

I am saying that getting rid of a White actress who plays a Biracial character on a Tv show created by a group of White people seems rather hollow. It does not fix the problem. Because the problem is that there are so few non white characters in these shows. I do not think people do this on purpose, it is probably subconscious but we can do better and need to do better. 

For her part Jenny Slate has been very gracious about this. Though the cynic in me wonders how much of this is just damage control.

So yes  only solution I can see is that we get more creators who are not white to accurately create characters who themselves are not white. Meanwhile get more voice actors who themselves are not white and let them play roles that do not necessarily match their skin color. Before you judge me, just think how many big name voice actors can you name who are not white?

It is not perfect and I know someone is going to tell me that people should only be allowed to voice characters of the same skin color but that seems regressive to me and could lead to assholes saying that only straight should voice straight or some bullshit like that. (I am not saying sexuality and race are the same I am just saying that someone out there would make the argument)

Racism comes in many forms, but trying to be inclusive is not one of them. 

Am I making any sense?



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