FOX has revealed that Arif Zahir will replace Mike Henry in the role of Cleveland Brown on Family Guy. The move comes three months after Henry stepped down from the role at a time when animated series were reconsidering whether white actors should voice Black characters in the wake of a larger cultural discussion on race following the death of George Floyd. Henry had already recorded his lines for the newest season of Family Guy before abdicating the position, so Zahir won't debut in the role until 2021. Zahir did offer a sneak preview of what his Cleveland will sound like.
Arguably the most notable of the changes was the decision to have Hank Azaria step away from the role of Apu on The Simpsons -- a part notable not just for its longevity but because Azaria's tenure had weathered a similar controversy following the release of the 2017 documentary The Problem With Apu. Jenny Slate's Big Mouth character, Missy.
"Firstly, I’m eternally grateful to have received this once in a lifetime opportunity," Zahir said in a statement to EW. "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. To Mike, you created something truly special and I promise I will do my absolute best to honor your legacy. To [executive producer] Rich Appel, [executive producer] Alec Sulkin and [creator] Seth MacFarlane, thank you for this incredible gift. And to the millions of fans who love this show, I promise not to let you down."
"It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years. I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color," Henry said at the time. "Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role."
Cleveland had his own spinoff in which Henry starred -- The Cleveland Show, which aired from 2009 until 2013. Given the incredible longevity of Family Guy and The Simpsons, though, a lot of fans remember that series as being short-lived.
This is only one way in which the movie and TV industry is attempting to do right by its audiences who criticize them for long ignoring racial insensitivities.
When HBO Max debuted earlier this year, it included Gone With the Wind, a film long decried for its racist themes. In response to these issues, the service now broadcasts the film with a disclaimer about the inaccuracies of its representations, though still makes the unaltered film available. Other TV series have aimed to remove controversial elements entirely, as various episodes of Scrubs, 30 Rock, and Community have all been pulled from services due to their offensive qualities.