Chris Rock’s Oscar Speech Uncovers Lack of Roles for Actors of Color in Animation Too

February 29, 2012  |  

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?

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  • intrr

    Reading this racist “of Color” thing is enough to raise my blood pressure. So what are Whites, “bleak” or “without color”? RACIST!

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  • Guest

    The best thing about his statement was the nervous laughter from all the white people when he said it. 

  • Xiomy234

    The Rock plays the white guy in Planet 51

  • IllyPhilly

    They guy from Cleavland is white, wait you want Black um. Little Bill (canceled) Wayne head (canceled) PJ’s (canceled) Suzie (never even got off the ground) You want like Disney Movie Black roles? We can play animals and sing the songs! Pretty much how the non animated movie industry is now.

  • Liish

    Kel Mitchell and as mentioned Cree Summers… She does tons of voice work

  • *:.whitneyeclectic.:*

    The woman who played James Earl Jones’ wife in “Coming to America” played his wife in ” The Lion King”. Andddd….that’s the only other person I could think of. Well is pretty dry after that. *shrugs*

  • Tiger_empress1

    But  this article should have also mentioned that some of the characters that black actors are given to “voice-over” are some of the most annoying. I can’t stand Donkey because this is just typical Murphy through most of his movies—the perpetual “CLOWN”.  Zebra is the same way in Madagascar. Even though it is animation,it is always the same concept. Black “voice” talent are loud, bumbling baffoons. What’s to be proud of?

  • Really, MN? This is a reach, but okay.

  • F3ral Anarchy

    are we talking just movies or movies and tv shows.  cree summer and tone loc have been doing voice overs for years

  • Janee

    If it helps, James Earl Jones (Eddie Murphy’s father in Coming to America) was the voice of Mufasa…I mean, he died, but he was still the King. 

    • Janee

      Nevermind…I probably should’ve finished reading 🙂 

    • the LION king. not a human king. 

      • everyone in that movie was animals

  • PrettyPucker

    The main character in the Princess and the Frog (Tiana) was voiced from a black actress…

    • that’s one example. see if you can name more.