As animated shows wise up to the fact that they probably shouldn’t have white people voicing characters of color, Family Guy has made a long-overdue recasting by hiring a replacement for Cleveland Brown, the show’s most prominent black character. Previously voiced by Mike Henry, who originated the character and voiced it since Family Guy premiered back in 1999 (and later on the spinoff series The Cleveland Show), the role will now go to Arif Zahir.
Henry announced back in June, “I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color,” and he’ll last be heard playing the character in Season 18 episodes which had already been completed. But moving forward, Zahir will have the role. “Arif’s vocal talent is obvious, but his understanding of Cleveland and his respect for the character give me confidence that he is in the right hands,” Henry said. “I look forward to getting to know Arif and working with him to make sure Cleveland stays every bit as awesome as he has always been.”
What makes this such a cool story is that Zahir got on the producers’ radar by doing impressions of Cleveland on his YouTube channel, Azerrz. He also does impressions of Obama, Trump, and Kendrick Lamar.
“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,” Zahir said in a statement via Variety. “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 Rich Appel, Alec Sulkin and 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.”
The hiring of Zahir comes on the heels of The Simpsons hiring Alex Désert to take over the role of Carl from Hank Azaria, Emily Raver-Lampman taking over for Molly from Kristen Bell on Central Park, and Ayo Edbiri taking on the role of Missy from Jenny Slate on Big Mouth.