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James-Earl-Jones-694981528.jpg

Why Is James Earl Jones Trending On Twitter? Because Of Blackface Backlash

By Kristy Puchko | TV | June 25, 2020 |

By Kristy Puchko | TV | June 25, 2020 |


James-Earl-Jones-694981528.jpg

Cue the Denzel gif, because James Earl Jones is fine. The 89-year-old actor is not dead, has not said something awful, and it’s not his birthday. Instead, he’s become the focus of a strawman argument about casting voice actors.

Yesterday, both Big Mouth and Central Park, announced they’d be recasting the roles of biracial characters who were voiced by white actresses. On Big Mouth, whip-smart Missy Foreman-Greenwald has been voiced by Jenny Slate. On Central Park, boy-crazy Molly Tillerman has been voiced by Kristen Bell. Both parts will be reassigned to Black actresses, who’ve not yet been revealed.

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Online, this caused a backlash about blackface, but not in the way you might expect. While some admitted discomfort about white actresses playing Black characters, others were outraged about the recasting announcement. Apparently, the fear is that casting Black people to play Black characters means the past will change and James Earl Jones won’t be the voice of Darth Vader anymore. So, James Earl Jones was trending as a defense of animated blackface.

The debate here is broken down pretty succinctly below.

Essentially, when cartoon shows have characters of color played by white actors, they are taking an opportunity away from a BIPOC. This is a problem because white people already have dominant access to a variety of roles, live-action and animated. So, the reply below doesn’t seem to understand it’s making Victor’s point.

Some used this conversation to draw attention to a slew of talented Black voice actors with threads that also contributed to “James Earl Jones” trending.

Simply put, there are plenty of Black performers who could voice Black cartoon characters. These performers would have a greater understanding of that character’s experience as a Black person than a white person would. Does it matter that Missy and Molly are biracial? In these shows created by white people, maybe it wasn’t intended to, perhaps as part of some sort of “we’re all the same” ideology. But that kind of thinking can become a means of silencing BIPOC voices instead of including them.

To create a cartoon character of color then have them voiced by a white actor makes BIPOC representation in animation a pretty shallow thing. To suggest that turnaround is fair play wrongly deduces that white actors and BIPOC actors are offered the same amount of opportunities to thrive in their field. That’s not the case as Hollywood overwhelmingly treats “white hero” as the default, and has a history of whitewashing roles to give them to white stars. Consider Prince of Persia, Ghost In the Shell, Exodus: Gods and Monsters, Speed Racer, Aloha, 21, Deathnote, or Batman Begins (to name a few).

Despite these tendencies toward favoring white actors, James Earl Jones still landed a voice role that is truly iconic. To use his success and overcoming adversity as a defense against animated blackface is to ignore the context of prejudice baked into the Hollywood system and to undermine the importance of Black voices in storytelling.

Source: THR




Kristy Puchko is the managing editor of Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter.



Header Image Source: Getty