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Racialized Cartoon Voice Casting

Yet Another thing on the long list of Shit That Pisses Michael Off As An Actor: Racialized Cartoon Voice Casting.

Here's what I mean: Far too often when there is , for instance, a crowd of cartoon bunnies of all sizes and colors the sole Black bunny will be voiced by the Black actor.


Because the filmmakers are racists, who define people by their skin color, which they transfer to the animator’s imaginary world. White voice over actors can play animals, aliens, furniture of all colors and types, but cast a black actor and it's a Black bear, a Black alien, a Black chair. A zebra. A skunk.

And if there isn't a "Black" something we are not considered at all.

In an animated world where anything can be any color producers and directors often only see real people in the narrow lanes defined by skin color. Animators - and even those “progressive” animation companies that create the most beloved cartoons - very frequently still see Whites as Actors, and non-White as Non-White Actors.


When they think of us at all they don't think of us as voice talent, they think of us, for example, as BLACK voice talent - and for them that Blackness must be conveyed to the audience, whereas for the White voice actors there are no restrictions. From a golden lamp to a blue fox to a red firehouse to an orange, self-aware planet - White actors will considered for anything, of any hue. The multicolored sky is the animated limit. To Infinity. And Beyond. But while we think of animators as having some of the widest of imaginations they often still see White actors as the objective center who can voice any color tree, dancing spoon, or singing mouse. In a CARTOON - a world where anything can be anything. For many animators the darker the voice actor the darker the animated character they must voice, and the more they perceive that actor as an “other” in real life the more the character voiced must represent that “other” in some way in their animation.

I once I had an audition for a German cartoon. They wanted a creaky old scientist, and my agent new I did character voices. So I pulled my old scientist voice, and my submission was sent off to Germany. The client was thrilled, and asked for a second take, creakier. I got creakier, sent off the second take, and they said I was perfect! They were flying out from Germany to meet me for the final callback!

I walked in the room, did the copy, and they told my agent that I sounded "too urban."

After the callback my agent said to me "I never should have let them see you."

It's easy to think "Those racist German bastards," but really - it's like that throughout animation in the United States, too. I know non-White actors who can do a wide range of accents and character voices, but unless the script calls for a wise-cracking, dark-furred squirrel, a deep purple alien, or if the producer already has a Black or Asian or Latino star they want to specifically put in a role, those talented, non-White voice actors are not even called in. These actors could give great squirrel, but unless the producer is thinking “Black squirrel” they will not have a chance. This is not the case all the time, but if animation studios want to really be be better than their live-action competitors they should do blind auditions, not ask for headshots, just listen to the damn voices. If the character represents a specific group then by all means be specific in casting, but if it’s a damn bug the perceived race of the voice actor only matters to a racist animator.

So despite their hip logos or sensitive plot lines, most animation studios still operate within the same traditional racist assumptions, where the characters non-White voice talent play must somehow indicate the non-White actors perceived “race,” whereas White talent can play an any colored anything.


You know - the thing were you can't see the actor.

We need more animators of color, and we need animators of all ancestry to be aware of this racist default. We need more animation that represents the actually mutual-hued, human world we live in, but also need to call out the racists animators who do not consider non-White voice talent unless the script specifically cals for us, or who need to indicate or character-justify using non-White talent when casting voices for some furniture, fish, dragons, or a buncha damn bunnies.

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