Changing the voice of Carl Carlson

Truth be told, I’m not completely sure what to make of this news that the producers of the Simpsons have elected to recast the voice of Homer’s friend Carl so that he’s voiced by a black man. On the one hand, I can certainly see where they’re coming from: of course black characters ought to be portrayed by black actors, just as disabled characters should be played by disabled people. It applies to any minority, and lends a degree of authenticity to a role. On the other hand, does it matter as much when dealing with cartoons? Audiences don’t actually see actors, just hear their voices, so does the same principal apply? In animation, just about anything can be anthropomorphised and given a voice, from mice to trains to toys: it’s up to an actor to step into a role. Given Carl has been voiced by Hank Azaria for thirty-odd years, moreover, won’t audiences notice the change? It’s a toughie.

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