Arif Zahir, a YouTube star with more than 6 million followers, will take over the role of Cleveland Brown on the Fox animated sitcom “Family Guy,” according to an announcement shared on the show’s Twitter account.
The casting news comes nearly three months to the day after “Family Guy” writer Mike Henry, who is white, said he would he would no longer voice Cleveland Brown, who is Black. “I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color,” Henry said in a statement at the time.
Zahir, who has mimicked Cleveland Brown on his YouTube channel, spoke in the character’s voice in a video posted on Twitter on Friday afternoon: “I’ve studied Mike. I mean, he’s incredible. I won’t let you down. I promise.”
In a separate statement, Zahir said: “When I heard that Mike Henry was stepping down from the role of Cleveland Brown — my favorite cartoon character of all time — I was shocked and saddened, assuming we’d never see him again. When I learned I would get to take over the role? Overabundant gratitude.”
Henry voiced Cleveland, one of the few recurring Black characters on “Family Guy,” since the show debuted on the Fox network in 1999. He also played the character in “The Cleveland Show,” a spin-off that ran from 2009 to 2013 on Fox.
The film and television industries are confronting issues of diversity, inclusion and representation — and animated shows, in particular, have been under pressure this year to stop hiring white actors to play non-white characters.
In late June, the producers of “The Simpsons” said the show “will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters.”
“The Simpsons” has faced growing criticism in recent years over the fact that Hank Azaria, a white actor, voiced Apu, an Indian American character. Azaria said earlier this year that he would no player voice the character, who some have said is a racist stereotype.
Two other animated shows — Netflix’s coming-of-age comedy “Big Mouth” and Apple TV Plus’ ensemble show “Central Park” — have replaced white performers playing biracial characters.
The performers, Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell, said they felt white privilege had allowed them to accept the roles of biracial characters in the first place.
Daniel Arkin is a reporter for NBC News.
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