Has the diversity discussion reached voice acting? What opportunities and challenges do voice actors of color face in an industry that has been dominated by white voice actors and white characters? To learn more about the experiences of voice actors of color, The Daily Fandom reached out to Cedric Williams, an actor and voice-over artist.
He is best known for voicing Cheetu from Hunter x Hunter and Don from The Promised Neverland.
The Struggles Of Being An Anime Voice Actor Of Color
TDF: Do you feel there are a lot of roles for people of color?
Cedric: For anime? No. For prelay, which is like American cartoons, it is getting there. They try to have at least one or two African-American characters. And of course, if it was an animal, you know, any race could read for it. Yeah, but it’s definitely, definitely getting better.
Some anime companies like Funimation, they are giving more African-Americans and people of color a chance to voice characters as shown in My Hero, Academia: Heroes Rising. There are three people of color in the movie, Zeno Robinson and Gabe Kunda and Dani Chambers. They have really prominent roles in the movie.
TDF: I’ve seen a lot of incidences of it. More people of color in animation, like cartoon characters, are being voiced by white people. How frequently would you say it happens?
Cedric: I think now that people are paying attention to it, I think it’s, I don’t think it happens as much anymore because there are enough black voice actors to voice those characters. Studios like Disney like for the characters and the actors to represent each other. But when it does happen, there’s an uproar. When a Caucasian person voices a black character or a person or a character of color.
People Are Starting To Pay Attention…
TDF: Would you say the uproar is more of a recent thing? Because you say it feels like now people are paying attention to it.
Cedric: More so now because voice actors are a lot more prevalent in that they go to cons. Back in the old days during like Mel Blanc, like voice actors weren’t really like seen. Now we have conventions, and like Vanity Fair’s now, like interviewing voice actors, YouTube, and now people know have a face character. And, you know, since we don’t, there just aren’t really that many African-American characters or people of color characters as much as white characters. I think it is very important to at least give priority to a person of color voicing that respectable character. I do think it’s getting better
TDF: Do you think the visibility of voice actors is forcing studios to be accountable?
TDF: Do you imagine that the anime community will have more opportunities for people of color?
Cedric: I really hope so. See, since it is from Japan, the characters are part of their culture and it’s like less than 1 percent of black people in Japan. So they don’t, you know, they don’t write stories for us, but you know, they’ll sometimes draw an African-American character in there. Like my character in Promise Neverland. I don’t know if he’s black or not, but he’s definitely a person of color. And maybe he’s Indian or Latino. Or it could be black.
TDF: He’s vaguely brown?
Cedric: He’s brown, that’s all I know. And in anime, if there’s a black character, we’re usually depicted as strong, sometimes angry. Cool. We have swagger. I would love to see an African-American voice the main protagonist like a Naruto or a Goku or a Tanjiro or a Deku. That’ll be awesome. Although a person of color does voice Boruto, which is Naruto’s son. So you know, you know, it’s coming. You know, and we do voice a lot of villain characters sometimes.
But I think due to Funimation really integrating black voice actors, people of color into their anime, I think other studios will follow. They’ll trust us, that we can carry a character and represent their characters correctly. The three voice actors I mentioned earlier did an excellent job in My Hero Academia and hopefully, that creates more opportunities for us. But it’s a slow process because, you know, it is Japan. You know, they’re [the anime are] their babies. And so they just want to make sure that maybe it’s just like they’re not used to us voicing their characters yet.
Do Voice Actors Of Color Have Variety?
TDF: You mentioned like the type of characters a lot of African-American voice actors get. Do you feel that there’s ever like you guys ever put in some sort of box that any type or do you feel like there’s you get to play a variety of roles with them?
Cedric: We get to play a variety of roles, but definitely not as much as our Caucasian brethren. But what we do have at our advantage is if it is like another ethnicity, we do have a better shot of getting it than a Caucasian person. But, you know, when it goes like animals, creatures, and like characters that look like us, you know, there is a lot of work.
It takes a lot to prove yourself to voice the white characters. Like it took a long time, or Phil LaMarr and Cree Summer, who are legends in this game to get to this point, to the point there, they had to fight and book a lot of black characters before they could be trusted with characters like Aquaman and Chris Sommer voices Medusa in Kid Icarus Uprising. You know, stuff like that.
TDF: It’s interesting that they have to voice all these other black characters before they can prove that they can play a white character. Is it sort of like they don’t get called into the audition even until they have like a pretty long resume?
Cedric: Pretty much. I sometimes get auditions for white characters, too, and I booked a couple of, you know, maybe like a handful so far. I actually had to learn something called a blaccent. A blaccent is like that stereotypical like accent, that quality of an African-American has. I wasn’t booking black characters. As you can hear, I don’t sound like a lot of quotable black people.
But, you know, people like Donald Glover are showing us that, like, not all black people have a hood-type vernacular. We can sound anyway. You know, we don’t have a particular, particular accent. But, you know, to an industry-standard, for some characters, it is asking us to make it a little bit more urban or a little bit more urban. I call it a blaccent because it’s a fun word, you know. But I think they will eventually give us more opportunities. But, you know, right now there’s enough work for everybody in black. There’s a lot of black voice actors that are thriving.
What Is Blaccent?
TDF: Can I ask about blaccent? Was it weird when you had to realize you had to learn it or was it just like this is part of voice acting?
Cedric: I was a little frustrated at first because I couldn’t like it, I was like, well, I mean. All right. Because it took me a while to learn it. I learned that you simply just have to drop your G’s instead of saying, I’m walking to the store. I walk into the store and that already has like a different musicality to it. So, yeah, I was a little frustrated but I had to learn to work more. And it’s been working.
TDF: But would you hope that it’s not a requirement in the future?
Cedric: Yes. I just want more opportunities. In voice acting the possibilities are endless. Maybe I need to prove myself more, but the industry needs if you fit the character voice wise it shouldn’t matter what you look like. But you know, it’s getting better as I said. I’m not like bashing the industry I’m just saying we love this industry and we just want to work more. And get more opportunities. Because it’s just a beautiful industry.
TDF: If you could play any character, like a dream character to play, who would it be?
Cedric: That’s easy, I have two actually Spongebob and Sonic.
Who Lives In A Pineapple…?
TDF: Any specific reason?
Cedric: Spongebob because I’ve been doing that voice my whole life. Spongebob embodies everything I love in a cartoon. I’ve been watching it since it came out in 1999 and I just love it so much. Sonic is a more recent one. Well, when I voiced Cheetu a lot of people were like wow, he sounds like Sonic the Hedgehog and I put two and two together.
Cheetu’s fast and sonic. I’m like wait, I been playing Sonic games my whole lifelike, you know, on this in the regional Sega Genesis. He’s a really cool character. And I lowkey I think Sonic is black because, you know, he’s fast. He’s athletic in the movie. He, like, you know, shook his hair and then like, he became an afro.
TDF: What about anime characters? Any anime characters you just really want to play?
Cedric: Well, the ones that are established, I obviously can’t like to be that because there’s already a brilliant voice actor voicing them. But I would love to be in Pokemon. I would love to be just like the lead protagonist. In any anime. But in Pokemon, in particular, I’d love to voice a trainer and maybe voice some Pokemon. Pokemon is also one of my favorite animes and I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had so far. I would love to just expand and just be. I love to be my Hero Academia, to be honest. And I love that anime so much.
TDF: I think it’s okay to want more. You want to be a hero.
Cedric: I want to feel what it’s like to be a hero. To be a Goku. Naruto Deku or Luffy. I would love that one day.
The Visibility Of Voice Actors (Of Color)
TDF: Do you think it’s because he said, like, there’s a lot more visibility of voice actors now? Do you think it’s good for like younger kids to see like voice actors of colors at conventions or in a YouTube interview is any sort?
Cedric: Oh yeah. Especially for, uh there’s a lot of black people that love anime. Like it’s a huge like community of black anime lovers and people of color. And so they’re actually aware now that there’s now a lot of us represented. They already know based off like there’s now a lot of black characters. But, you know. So whenever they see as a person of color, like myself or Zeno, Danny Chambers, or Gabe Kunda and Dani Chambers voicing characters in anime.
It just like they get so happy there’s so much support for Zeno Robinson as Hawks in My Hero Academia. People love him voicing that character. There was a lot of support so that’s why I think they should be more integrated because people want it and they love it when it happens. There’s like, oh, my gosh, he is so perfect, you know, social media has really been a big help, too. So, yeah, it can be awesome.
TDF: When taking roles, do you have a preference at all or are you just like, I’ll go wherever?
Cedric: Yeah. If the character is interesting and I — just — I love like being in different worlds and being different species, being different races, being, you know, being a black character, but like being like in space or in a fantasy world or some like that. I’ll be awesome. Yeah. I’m like open to everything. I just want to do good work, entertain people and make this a lifelong career.
TDF: Voice act forever?
TDF: When it comes to the struggles of voice actors of color, is there anything being done behind the scenes that you’re involved in?
Cedric: There’s actually a movement going on. I can’t really say much yet, but the movement is, we are aware of what’s happening and we’re speaking up about it. We are in the process of collecting evidence and experiences from others to see how we can improve our current state in the industry that we work in. So there’s more opportunities and equality for everyone.