You know how you hear a person’s voice and can instantly tell that it’s a black person? Not because of what they say, but how they say it, all about the tone and inflection. Well, after reading a recent New York Times piece on FOX’s The Cleveland Show, a new cartoon centered on Cleveland Brown, the neighbor of Family Guy’s Peter Griffin, I realized my theory might be a bit flawed. Cleveland Brown is white!
And honestly, it doesn’t bother me. Yet. I’d have to see the first episode which airs on Sept. 27, but NPR’s David Bianculli likened the show to Amos ‘n’ Andy. Ouch. And USA Today’s Robert Bianco said that FOX “could face a backlash.”
Now we’ve got a black family in the mix—it’s about time—smack dab in between two dysfunctional yet comical white families. A cheer for non-yellow/non-pale colored characters out there? If you consider that the show’s producers, Seth MacFarlane, Rich Appel and Mike Henry, the voice of Cleveland, are all white, then no. It’s a black family through the eyes of three white producers, with a few black writers and actors sprinkled in. (Sanaa Lathan, Reagan Gomez-Preston and Kevin Michael Richardson lend their voices.)
Mike Henry, the voice of Cleveland, had this to say to endear him to the hearts of viewers: “Although there weren’t many black people around,” he said, “I always felt black. I’ve always been a little bit of an outsider.”
Huh? You felt black? I don’t buy that. If you just happen to know how to imitate a black man’s voice—which I’m still a little bit hazy on here ‘cause he sounds all nasily—then just own up to that.
But considering the 2009 fall lineup for TV, I am concerned about the portrayal of black family life. We’ve got Tyler Perry’s two shows on TBS, Frankie & Neffe on BET, and … and … reruns of The Cosby Show on TV Land? If the Cleveland Show is our best bet for a real portrayal of a black family on television, then what they’re saying is going to be just as important as how they’re saying it.