Characters voiced by black men get a pretty decent amount of screen time in animated films these days, often being the main sidekick on the hero or heroes’ journey to success, being present virtually every step of the way. Some people would argue that this is a step forward for black entertainers.
“Afro Circus” is simply the most recent in a long line of public displays of buffoonery that is reducing the “black” character to one-dimensional comic relief in animated films. In every installment of the Madagascar series, Chris Rock’s character, Marty the Zebra, has been a Frankenstein of stitched-together comic tropes, lending very little actual characterization to the character. Marty is constantly the butt of some joke or another, and when he isn’t its some other character voiced by POC, in this case the lemurs. Then there’s Chris Rock’s character in Bee Movie. A mosquito on his way to Alaska for moose blood that will, quote, “blow your head off.” His only purpose in that movie is comic relief while the main character has a crisis.
Some of you may be saying “Well hang on a minute, Theo! You’re just picking on Chris Rock! Surely there are other black actors out there who voice characters that can be taken seriously!”
Alright, anonymous voice from nowhere, let’s look at one of the most prolific black actors of all time: Eddie Murphy. If anyone can be taken seriously, it’s going to arguably the most successful POC in Hollywood, right?
When people think of Mulan, what image springs to mind? Sure, first of all there’s the strong female POC lead who bucks against gender norms and societal constraints and that’s fantastic. But then there’s Eddie Murphy, who brings what, exactly, to the table?
That’s right, dishonor. By allowing the “black” character to be reduced to, say it with me now, a Minstrel Show.
And what about his role in Shrek, which is arguably one of the most successful animated films of the last decade or so.
Waffles. His character is defined, in actual legitimate official promotional material, by waffles.
And the list goes on!
“But Theo! What about ‘black’ characters who AREN’T ridiculous minstrel shows?” Good point, anonymous voice from nowhere! What about them?
You know, I honestly can’t remember any.
Seriously, I can’t. And the only one I’ve managed to find by searching is Bloog from Open Season. And the only reason I can include him is because he isn’t constantly a minstrel show. He’s a walking black stereotype in the form of a bear, and I can’t decide which is worse!
I defy you to find me a “black” character from an animated film produced in the last 10 years that isn’t some form of ridiculous farce. Hollywood is being whitewashed, and when it isn’t the POC characters are only there for comic relief or to serve as some sort of cultural guide so that the white characters can feel deservedly guilty for their whiteness.