Chris Rock bought up a very interesting point this past weekend at the 84th Annual Academy Awards. Why aren’t actors of color given the same range that many white actors get in terms of animation work? We can ask the same question about movies in general, but looking at just animation alone, white voice actors tends to play a vast array of characters no matter what the race is (The Princess and the Frog anyone?).
Here is what Rock said before he presented the award for Best Animated Movie:
“I love animation because in the world of animation, you can be anything you wanna be. If you’re a fat woman, you can play a skinny princess. If you’re a short, wimpy guy, you can play a tall gladiator. If you’re a white man, you can play an Arabian prince. And if you’re a black man, you can play a donkey or a zebra. You can’t play white? My God!”
Rock’s reference was to him voicing a zebra in the animated movie, Madagascar and Eddie Murphy’s role as Donkey in the Shrek series of course.
Thinking back to all the animated movies I watched as a kid after hearing what he said, I decided to do some research and started looking up the voice actors from some of my favorites. For example, the two lead actors who provided their voice talents to one of my most beloved animated films as a kid, Aladdin, were a white man and a white woman. Aladdin and Jasmine are supposed to be of Middle Eastern background, so why couldn’t the studio get Middle Eastern actors to voice these characters? Ironically, the woman who sings as Princess Jasmine’s is a woman of color, Lea Salonga-Chien. And even though Jason Weaver (from Smart Guy) was given the chance to sing as young Simba in The Lion King, Jonathan Taylor Thomas (remember him from Home Improvement?) was the voice for the cub a majority of the time (and Matthew Broderick was the adult Simba). Dang…who do you have to kill to get into A Bug’s Life or in the Toy Story franchise!?
I never fully realized how many characters of color were voiced by white actors. For instance, the few black voice over actors (and there really are few) either play the token black character in the film, a sidekick animal (Eddie was also the small dragon Mushu in Mulan) or some other inanimate object. The Princess and the Frog and The Lion King were one of the few times I knew that black actors had the a variety of roles (even if one was a monkey and the James Earl Jones’s Mufasa was killed off early). White voice over actors are given a range of characters to voice of all different backgrounds. With that in mind, you would think that would be an easy lane for someone of color to pick up a j-o-b, but it almost seems like black voice over actors and voice over actors of all backgrounds and color may not actually be needed…
Do you feel what Chris Rock was saying?