Actress Alison Brie has apologized for voicing Diane Nguyen, a Vietnamese American character on Netflix’s animated series BoJack Horseman. In an Instagram post, Brie reflected on the role – a highlight of her acting career – as a missed opportunity for Asian representation in American media.
“I now understand that people of color,” she writes, “should always voice people of color.” Her regret might have almost seemed superficial, were it not for the fact that Diane’s Asian heritage is an important part of her character. Indeed, given how one episode even sees her return to Vietnam to get ‘in touch’ with her roots, Brie now recognizes her performance as inauthentic, and indicative of the deeply-entrenched racial stigmas of Hollywood filmmaking.
“We missed a great opportunity to represent the Vietnamese-American community accurately and respectfully,” Brie goes on to say, “and for that I am truly sorry. I applaud all those who stepped away from their voiceover roles in recent days. I have learned a lot from them.”
BoJack Horseman aired its last episode on January 31st, 2020 after six seasons and half a decade of production. And while Brie – financially speaking – may have been lucky enough to sit out her contract to completion, the same cannot be said for other performers.
On the contrary, in fact. Over the past week, many actors who voice characters of different ethnicity have since terminated their contracts. These include Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell, white actresses who resigned their roles playing bi-racial characters on Big Mouth and Central Park, respectively.
In what is perhaps the biggest turnaround of all, though, Mike Henry, a Caucasian actor who voiced the African American character Cleveland Brown on animated sitcoms Family Guy and The Cleveland Show, stepped down from his role as well, thus ending a career that spanned over twenty years.
Chances are, most audience members never knew that Cleveland wasn’t voiced by a black actor. But that is exactly part of the problem. See, when it comes to live-action, representation is direct. In animation, however, actors can hide their skin color behind drawings. By apologizing for her voice work, Brie now adds her voice to a growing number of activists who are working to end the disconnect between what goes on in front of the camera, and behind it.