Monday, September 28, 2009
Is This TV's New Black Face?
First let me say, I don't even watch that much television, but I do stay abreast of what shows are appearing that feature diverse casts. Sadly, I know that despite the NAACP's official call for more diversity on the small screen, not much has changed. Yes, there are some bright spots, but overall, network TV land still feels overwhelmingly White (Where are you Bill Cosby?) And now, to add fuel to the fire, Fox has launched a new cartoon sitcom called The Cleveland Show all about a Black man named Cleveland Brown and his trials as husband and stepfather.
The problem? Cleveland Brown is voiced by a White actor. His wife is voiced by Sanaa Lathan and his kids are also voiced by Black actors, so I should be happy that somebody Black in Hollywood is working, right? Wrong. I mean, if there really weren't any Black actors who could play the part of Cleveland Brown, sure let the White guy do it, but this is feeling really pitiful to me. Like a rerun of the debate over whether or not Angelina Jolie should have played Daniel Pearl's wife in A Mighty Heart. She put on dark make-up and a curly wig and presto she was kind of colored.
Of course in the cartoon world, maybe this is a good thing? Maybe this will be the beginning of color-blind casting and Black actors will be voicing the entire cast of South Park, the Simpsons and Dora the Explorer. Oh and Shaggy from Scooby Doo. But I doubt it. The reality is, we're not a colorblind society. Race does matter. Even in our voices. Not always, of course. Take me for example. I can't tell you how many times people were shocked to discover I was Black after only speaking to me on the telephone. Apparently I sound "White." So I'd be a great candidate to voice a White cartoon character apparently. But on the flip side, there is a definite tone, structure and sound to the way some Black people speak. I dare not call it Ebonics because sometimes it really is just a tone, but it is there. And the character of Cleveland Brown is supposed to have that tone. And the White actor who voices him doesn't speak like that naturally. He has to "pretend" or "act" or here comes the slippery slope, "imitate" the voice of a Black man. Is there a dialect coach on set, I wonder?
What do you think? Is this the wave of the future and I just need to chill out? Or has a Black actor been slapped in the face once again in Hollywood? Would I think differently if a Black actor was being used to voice a White character? I do happen to know that Cree Summer voices some cartoon characters who are not Mixed like she is and I don't really have a problem with that, but I also think her characters aren't all human either. So let me hear it. I'm listening.