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Old 08-14-2020   #1
The Doctor
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Default Character's ethnicity/voice actor's ethnicity

I realize that this is a very sensitive and controversial topic, which can easily lead to unpleasant behavior, and maybe I'm walking on a thin ice by even considering starting this topic in the first place, but this has become a big talking point recently and will probably affect the future of voice acting, so I feel it is something worthy tackeling. Let's just try state our opinions in a polite manner and be understanding of different point-of-views.

For those who don't know, whitewashing of roles (I.E. Having a minority character be played by white actor) became a big talking point few years ago with movies like Doctor Strange, Hellboy reboot and various Western adaptations of Japanese mangas/animes like Ghost in the Shell and Netflix's Death Note. Those were of course live-action projects, where the line is probably safe to say being more clear, but more recently a focus has shifted to voice acting. One could argue that the ball started to rolling with the "Problem with Apu" documentary, which point was more about the effect said Simpsons character had on the lives of Indian-American people rather than him being voiced by non-Indian actor, but the spotlight was shined on the matter nevertheless and it was later announced than Hank Azaria would step down from the role. More recently, various long-running animated shows, like Simpsons and Family Guy, announced that all of their black characters who had been voiced by white actors would be recast.

As always, this has divided people. Some feel that person's ethnicity shouldn't matter in the voice acting, since nobody is being painted in a blackface, the character on-screen usually is still their original ethnicity and most people will never know what the actor voicing the character actually looks like. Then you have people who don't think that white actors playing non-white roles is ever acceptable, since minority actors struggle with getting roles in the first place and a white person voicing a minority character can still come across as an insulting caricature. There's also a third group, who appreciate the idea of giving minority actors an equal chance as white actors, but find a hard cut rule of "everyone can only play their own ethnicity" being even more limiting of said chances.

As for how I think... sorry to say, but I don't really know how to feel, since this is a very complicated issue with no easy answers.

My personal interest/fascination for the voice acting comes from the fact that on-paper there's no limit on what kind of roles you can play. A skinny nerd can play big bodybuilder jock, a short person can play a giant, women can play men, humans can play animals or aliens etc. Only the sky and your personal vocal range are the limit. So, I don't feel comfortable with the idea of limiting the options for the roles a voice actor can play.

Not to mention, there are many examples of actors giving beloved performances as characters who don't match their own ethnicity. Disney's Aladdin is still a classic, with Robin Williams' performance as the Genie (although, him being a blue magical creature probably grants you certain leeway) being particulary praised, yet it didn't have a single Arabic person in the lead roles. Most of the actors hired for Miles Morales (including Shameik Moore, but I could be wrong) are technically "wrong", since they aren't mixed race themself. Usually animes, unless they take place in a clear fantasy/sci-fi setting (and even then it can be debatable, like with Dragon Ball) or don't star humans, take place in Japan with Japanese main characters, but most people doing English dubs for animes aren't Japanese.

At the same time, I'm a white cis hetero man and if a discriminated group of people are saying that they don't feel good about how they are treated in a field of work or piece of art, it isn't really my place to tell them that they are wrong. I have an Italian friend, who once told me how he hates Mario, because everytime he goes outside of Italy he has to deal with people throwing Mario's exaggerated accent and "Mamma Mias" to his face. So, even if the intention of an ethnic character isn't to be insulting, it can still end up that way.

Plus, is not like getting an ethnic actor for an ethnic role has to be just a "social obligation", it can potentially even improve the end product. Frank Angones, one of the producers and head writers of the Ducktales reboot, had a twitter thread (which he hasn't updated in a while) where he went through the aired episodes and gave bunch of behind-the-scenes details for each. When he got to the episode with the three Caballeros, he explained that one of their goals is to match the ethnicity of the character with the actor's (and this goes beyond people of color, remember that Scrooge is voiced by an actual Scottish this time) partially because of representation, but also because they can bring small details, like vocal ticks and dialects, which an actor from different backround wouldn't even be aware of.

So, yeah, I'm pretty indecisive. I guess my stand currently is the classic "case-by-case" attitude and sitting back and waiting to see how things shape up.

What do you all think?
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